Endangered Red Wolves Given Secure Habitat in Missouri to Help Save the Species

Red wolves were once commonplace throughout the Eastern and South Central United States. However, their numbers have nearly been wiped out due to predator control programs and loss of habitat. Now, there are only a few hundred left, with only 20 in the wild. A new initiative is working to help these animals rebound.

The Saint Louis Zoo is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to turn 20 acres of its Sears Lehmann, Jr. Wildlife Reserve into secured habitats for 12 breeding pairs of red wolves. Those animals will come from other conservation organizations in 2022. To allow the wolves to learn natural survival skills with limited human interaction, visitors will not be allowed on site.


Jeffrey Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President and CEO with the Saint Louis Zoo, says, “American red wolves are key species. Once populations are restored, they should create a balanced natural environment, fulfilling their predator-related roles to maintain stability within the ecosystem.”

Funding has come largely from donations, which Bonner says are crucial in continuing their efforts to save animals from extinction.

The Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), a global initiative that works to save endangered species, is also partnering on the effort.

Angelina Casillas, Programs Coordinator for C2S2, says, “The quick work of the Saint Louis Zoo to answer the call to action for this North American species is crucial for its survival. American red wolves are critically endangered, and this long-term commitment by the Saint Louis Zoo will be key to growing the population in zoos and restoring a sustainable, healthy population to the wild.”


The Saint Louis Zoo has a history of working toward wolf conservation. Former zoo director Marlin Perkins and his wife Carol helped found the Endangered Wolf Center in the 1970s to ward off extinction for the animals. The center has been instrumental in helping set up the new habitats for the breeding pairs.

Center CEO Virginia Busch says, “We are absolutely thrilled that the Saint Louis Zoo is joining the pack to save the American red wolf. We look forward to expanding our collaboration with the Zoo in the future.”

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According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the red wolf is the world’s most endangered wolf. It was first listed as a species “threatened with extinction” under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. There are about 245 red wolves managed within 43 captive breeding facilities throughout the country.

An estimated 20 can still be found in their native habitats in eastern North Carolina. There is research being done to see if there is still red wolf ancestry in the wild in southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, which was the only region that contained wild red wolves in the late 1970s. They could cover much more ground.


The USFWS says, “Any habitat in the Southeastern United States of sufficient size, which provides adequate food, water, and cover, could be suitable for the red wolf. Telemetry studies in eastern North Carolina indicate that red wolf home range requirements vary from about 20 to 80 square miles.”

Humans are the biggest threat to the animals, with vehicle accidents and gunshots killing many. When one of the animals killed is part of a breeding pair, the population is further driven down. Habitat issues also play a role. When development breaks up their habitat, coyotes can come in, directly competing for food, causing disease, and diluting red wolf lineage with breeding. Climate change-caused sea level rise in eastern North Carolina may also pose a threat to their survival.

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