U.S. Is About To Allow Hunting Of World's Most Endangered Wolf

There are fewer than 30 left in the wild — but there's still time to stop this.

A new plan that would allow the killing of the most endangered kind of wolf on the planet is being met with public outcry. 

The red wolf is considered the world's most endangered subspecies of wolf — there are fewer than 30 red wolves left in the wild — and if the U.S. government decides to implement its new plan for red wolves, it could erase these animals forever. 

Red wolf adult and pup
Museum of Life and Science

Red wolves used to live all across the South, from Texas to Florida, and as far north as Pennsylvania, but because of hunting and habitat loss, the red wolves were nearly extinct by the 1970s. Now the last remaining wild red wolves live in five counties in North Carolina, where anyone who kills one of these endangered wolves can be fined up to $100,000.

Red wolf pups
Museum of Life and Science

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) just proposed decreasing protections for these wolves and shrinking their protected habitat to a tiny fragment of where they currently live. This means that if the wolves wander off this piece of land, they could be hunted and trapped without penalty.

Conservationists say this is tantamount to condemning the red wolf to extinction.

"This proposal is worse than we imagined," Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition (RWC), said in a statement. "The agency's decision to abrogate its responsibility to protect and conserve these animals no matter whose land they happen to be standing on is reprehensible."

Red wolf standing on a road
Robert James/USFWS

The history of red wolf recovery is complicated. The federal Red Wolf Recovery Program began in 1980 and, through captive breeding and release, managed to bring the wild population of red wolves up to 150 by 2012.

But once again the wolf population dropped in recent years because of habitat loss and hunting. Private landowners sometimes killed red wolves they mistook for coyotes on their property. 

Red wolf

In 2016, the USFWS announced it would stop the protection plan and round up the survivors to put them in captivity. It was postponed after public outcry, but now the new federal plan, which was proposed by USFWS late last month, again has conservationists deeply fearful for the future of the species. 

"The USFWS rightly notes that landowner support is critical to the future of red wolf recovery," Wheeler said. "But that support can’t be achieved through the unregulated hunting and trapping of red wolves that happen to wander onto private land. This claim, offered without any evidence to uphold it, defies both history and common sense and ignores the fact that humans are the root cause of most red wolf mortalities."

Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC), added that it is "natural for wolves to wander; wolves are wide-ranging animals ... To create an environment where it is ‘explicitly permissible’ for local landowners to kill an endangered wolf for leaving its newly-assigned area is unethical and will no doubt result in the extinction of red wolves in the wild.”

The government is taking comments from the public on this plan until July 30: You can voice your opinion here. You can also support wolf conservation by donating to the RWC or WCC