Wolves have been vilified by humans for centuries from children’s fairy tales – “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” – Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf in a sheep’s clothing to the haunting howl of a wolf played in the background of scary shows to werewolf movies.
This stereotyping of wolves has not boded well for the red wolf. They have been the target of predator control measures, shot and killed just because they are wolves. Once common in eastern U.S. forests, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in the early 1970’s. The remaining wolves were now confined to zoos and wildlife centers.
A breeding program with the captive wolves saved the species and in the 1980’s red wolves were released in the wild in a North Carolina wildlife refuge. As of 2015 there were over 50 wolves in the refuge.
This species is still in a perilous state. Despite recovery efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service these wolves have not fared well. Many people remain ignorant of the benefits and importance of wolves in the environment and have balked and thwarted the agency’s attempts to re-establish the red wolf population.
Wolves play an important role in the environment in keeping elk, deer and moose in check. This results in a greater biodiversity of plant and animals. In Yellowstone where gray wolves were re-introduced, aspen groves rebounded resulting in increasing habitat for a variety of birds, stabilizing stream banks and providing resources for beavers to build dams. Overall the park now has a healthier natural environment.
Until people overcome their unfounded fears of an animal they know little about, the red wolf will have a difficult road to come back from the brink of extinction.