Red Wolf Myths and Facts

Myth: Those wolves might hurt me or my kids!
Fact: Since the reintroduction of red wolves into the wild in 1987, there have been zero red wolf attacks on human beings. When considering all species of wolves, there have only been two documented and proven human fatalities from gray wolves in all of North America in the last 100 years. One was in Alaska in 2010 and the other was in Canada in 2005.

Wolves are naturally afraid of people and their first instinct is to run from humans. It is only when a wolf’s natural behavior is altered by humans that conflicts occur. It is much more likely for a person to be killed by cattle or a domestic dog than by a wolf.

Myth: Red wolves will attack my livestock!
Fact: Nation-wide, wolves account for less than 1% of livestock losses. Coyotes and even domestic dogs both kill more livestock than wolves do each year. When a loss of livestock is determined to be from a wolf, reimbursement programs are available to cover the cost of the taken animal. Also, there are very simple techniques that can help people protect their livestock from predators.

Myth: That wolf would make a great pet!
Fact: Dogs are descendants of wolves, but tens of thousands of years of domestication has drastically altered their behavior, anatomy and needs. Wolves and wolf/dog hybrids do not make good pets, and trying to keep them as pets can have detrimental effects on both the human caretaker and the animal.

There are many reasons why wolves do not make good pets. Wolves have special nutritional needs and space requirements that a domestic situation cannot provide. A wolf is a wild animal and that wild nature cannot be removed, even through several generations of domestication. Wolves require diverse and extensive exercise for good health, something a domestic situation cannot provide. They should be kept in packs for their emotional well-being; keeping a wolf as a pet will cause the animal severe stress and loneliness. Wolves that are habituated to people begin to lose their natural fear of humans, creating an animal that may begin to show dominance and will be nearly impossible to train. Wolves that are kept as pets are incredibly destructive, damaging furniture, flooring and even drywall. These animals also may begin to challenge members of the family, such as small children, and cannot tell the difference between the family pet and a food source. Due to a number of factors, including insurance reasons, many veterinarians refuse to treat wolves.

Myth: That wolf killed that animal for no reason!
Fact: Wolves have basic needs, just like people do. Wolves need to eat, protect themselves and their families, and teach their young to hunt. When a wolf kills an animal it is doing so to fill one of these basic needs, but not to be cruel.

Myth: The wolves are going to kill all the deer and small mammals!
Fact: Wolves balance a healthy ecosystem. They actually strengthen herds by picking off the weak and sick animals, and by keeping those populations at a healthy level so diseases don’t spread throughout the herds. This provides hunters with stronger, better animals to hunt, and balances the ecosystem so no single species becomes overpopulated. As the number of deer and small mammals decrease, the ecosystem will be able to support fewer wolves, so the number of wolves will decrease, which will raise the number of deer and small mammals—and the cycle will repeat. When all things are balanced, nature will take care of itself; and wolves are part of that balance.

Myth: Red wolves are coyote hybrids!
Fact: Red wolves are a distinct species of wolf, one of three species left in the world. Red wolves (Canis rufus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) are two separate species. Grey wolves, red wolves and coyotes all share a recent common ancestor.

Coyotes and red wolves can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. When the recovery program began, hundreds of animals suspected to be red wolves were captured. After extensive testing it was determined that only 17 animals were true red wolves, and all of the others were coyote hybrids. The recovery program used only those animals that were true red wolves to breed, meaning that the animals used for that program were not hybrids. Because coyotes and red wolves can interbreed and because there are currently coyotes in the area wild red wolves inhabit, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) must be very diligent in ensuring that hybridization is not occurring. They do this by monitoring all red wolf pairs, and testing all puppies born to ensure they are not hybrids.

There are physical differences between red wolves and coyotes. Red wolves are larger than coyotes, measuring about five feet long nose to tail and weighing on average 45 to 70 pounds. Coyotes are much smaller, measuring about three feet in length and weighing on average 25 to 45 pounds. However, the sizes can overlap, causing some confusion about what one might be seeing. Red wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs, and often with reddish color behind their ears, on their muzzle and toward the backs of their legs. Coyotes can be a wide variety of color variations, ranging from buff or grey to even brown or black. Again, there can be some overlap in terms of coloration, so examining the muzzle can often help determine what one is seeing. Generally, coyotes tend to have a narrower, more pointed muzzle than red wolves.