By the Endangered Wolf Center
Top image courtesy of Michelle Steinmeyer | Endangered Wolf Center
In 1971, Wild Kingdom Host Marlin Perkins and his wife, Carol, focused on the wolf as their primary conservation effort. Why? They saw that without wolves, entire ecosystems could become unbalanced — and they were at the time! They rallied a passionate group of individuals to establish the Endangered Wolf Center with the goal of addressing the serious plight of wolves at risk of extinction.
Through carefully managed breeding programs, inspiring educational programs and innovative methods for introducing releasable wolves into their native habitats, the Endangered Wolf Center has changed the fate of endangered canids. With only seven Mexican wolves found in the wild in the ‘70s to begin this important work, today’s wild Mexican Wolf population is over 240. All these wolves can trace their roots back to the Endangered Wolf Center.
Wolf myths and facts
Myth 1: Wolves act exactly like they do in fairytales
Fact: Little Red Riding Hood lied. And so did a lot of other fairytales over the years, even recent animated films like Frozen.
Wolves are nothing like they’ve been portrayed in these stories — they’re actually shy and incredibly family-oriented. So, if you’re camping or hiking through a forest where wolves live, you are very unlikely to encounter them and if you do, they’re probably more scared of you that you are of them.
Myth 2: Wolves hurt the environment
Fact: Nature depends on apex carnivores and keystone species to survive and thrive. Wolves are both, which means their native ecosystems rely on them to keep the environment in balance.
Myth 3: Wolves are responsible for significant cattle depredation
Fact: Department of Agriculture reports put wolf depredation of calves and cattle at less than 2%. In fact, coyotes and domesticated dogs are far more likely to be the cause of these losses. Additionally, returning wolves to a landscape reduces coyote populations to more natural levels.
To coexist with wolves, a variety of methods such as range riding, fencing, fladry (tying brightly colored flags to fences), guard dogs and flashing lights have been found to be effective, especially when multiple methods are used.
Types of wolves at the Endangered Wolf Center
With its 63 acres, the Endangered Wolf Center gives canids plenty of room to roam in large, naturally wooded habitats. This Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited conservation facility is home to wolves, foxes, and other canids from around the world, which they’re working tirelessly to conserve.
Mexican wolves are the smaller subspecies of the gray wolf. Their coloring is gray, white and tan and their markings vary, with many having a darker mask around their eyes.
Historically, hundreds of thousands of Mexican wolves lived throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico. In the late 1970s, Mexican wolves were declared extinct in the wild. But in 1998, 11 were released as part of a reintroduction program.
Today, the roughly 240 wild Mexican wolves live mainly in the mountain woodlands, forests and scrublands of New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.
The Endangered Wolf Center has worked to conserve this species for more than 50 years.
American red wolf
Smaller than Mexican wolves, the American red wolf has red and tan fur, with darker features sometimes along their back.
This species became extinct in the wild by the 1970s, as well, due to human impact such as poaching, trapping and habitat loss.
As the only large carnivore solely native to the United States, red wolves play an important ecological role to maintain balance and healthy populations of prey such as white tail deer, raccoons, feral hogs and even small rodents.
Today the only wild population of American red wolves lives in a recovery area on the coast of North Carolina. With less than 30 wild red wolves, they are the most critically endangered wolf species in the world.
In 2022, the Endangered Wolf Center sent four red wolves from their facility in St. Louis, Missouri, to North Carolina to strengthen the fragile wild population. The Wild Kingdom crew visited the Endangered Wolf Center as well as the North Carolina site to see this spectacular conservation mission in action.
While the South American maned wolf resembles a giant fox, they’re most closely related to bush dogs, not wolves! These leggy creatures have earned the nickname, “fox on stilts” for their appearance and even “skunk fox” due to their powerful scent.
The Endangered Wolf Center supports their conservation through managed breeding, behavioral and reproductive research and education.
African painted dog
Their Latin name, Lycaon pictus, translates to “painted wolf,” thanks to the beautiful black, brown and tan swirl of markings on their coats. Interestingly, each painted dog has a pattern that is unique, just like a human fingerprint, which allows them to identify pack mates in the wild.
These social canids are endangered and native to the grasslands of Africa. They live in dynamic family packs and have unique, high-pitched vocalizations that sound more like a bird than a dog!
In 2018, the Endangered Wolf Center had two large litters of African painted dogs, totaling 23 pups.
There’s no such thing as the big, bad wolf and the Endangered Wolf Center is committed to changing that perception. By learning more about these canids, we can understand how they play a vital role in our greater ecosystem.