Does the red wolf still roam the wilds of Texas?
It’s an intriguing question and one that TFG Editor-In-Chief has dug into and recently shared at length with Todd Jurasek Park radio.
Canis rufus, the red wolf, was common in the southeastern United States from the Carolinas to central Texas. However, popular theory has it predator control programs combined with habitat loss in certain areas reduced the population and by the 1970s, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) officials declared the only remaining red wolves were in eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.
The common thinking was the population threatened itself by interbreeding with the canis latrans and canis familiaris (domestic dog). In response to this, Service officials made canis rufus the first-ever mammal put on the endangered species list and started a capture program starting in 1973 to find the last remaining “genetically pure” red wolves and found a captive breeding program. In 1980, Service officials considered the red wolf extinct in the wild and labeled only 14 of the hundreds of animals they caught as pure red wolves. These 14 specimens are the basis for all of the red wolves in the federal recovery program.
Research that is more recent suggests the red wolf is a fertile hybrid of the coyote and gray wolf. DNA analysis of 77 canids captured for the captive breeding program from 1976-76 (including some of the first animals in the captive breeding program) revealed only genotypes only found in southern coyotes or gray wolves. In fact, they even showed a grey wolf characteristic of the Mexican gray wolf, another highly endangered species.
Without question there are animals in Texas that look virtually exactly like the red wolves in the federal captive breeding program. Whether they are genetically the same is up for debate there are wild canines other than coyotes out there.
But what are they?