A History of The Red Wolf

By Rachel E. Wells / Wolf Song of Alaska Volunteer

A. Natural History

Until recently, the red wolf has been considered a separate species (Canis rufus) from its cousin the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Current classification of the red wolf has been under debate. Three subspecies of the red wolf have been recognized: the Florida red wolf (Canis rufus floridanus), the Mississippi Valley red wolf (C.r. gregoryi ), and the Texas red wolf (C.r. rufus ) (Mech 1970). The Florida and Mississippi subspecies of red wolf are similar to the eastern gray wolf (Canis lupus lycaon ) in size and general proportions. The Texas red wolf is physically very similar to Canis latrans, the coyote. Many debate over Texas wolf genetics and some individuals are difficult to tell apart from a coyote.

A study by Barbara Lawrence and W. H. Bossert in 1967 (Mech 1970) revealed four unique facts about the red wolf. These facts help to explain the similarity of the red wolf to the gray wolf that inhabited the eastern United States. These four facts are: (1) red wolves occur in very small geographic ranges, (2) they are the only kind of wolf that is not considered a subspecies of Canis lupus, (3) part of the red wolf's range overlaps with the coyote and the gray wolf, and (4) in areas of overlap, the red wolves tend to resemble the species with which it overlaps (Mech 1970). According to Lawrence and Bossert, this resemblance is considered rare since two similar species tend to differ where they overlap in range, in order to minimize competition.

Red wolves range from 45 to 80 pounds. Their coat usually has rich chestnut or reddish tones on the head, back, and legs. Some may even be all black, especially those found in the bottomland forests of the Southeast. Unlike gray and timber wolves which hunt large prey in packs, the red wolves are generally more solitary hunters, living off small prey. Red wolves are capable of taking down deer but more readily hunt raccoons, opossums, muskrats, rabbits, and ground dwelling birds. When taking down larger prey, red wolves will team up and hunt in groups. Hunting in groups enables the predator to take down animals much larger than itself and beyond the ability of a single individual; "A wolf's greatest weapon against prey is its cooperative behavior" (Weidensaul 1994). Red wolves pair with life long mates and reach breeding maturity, in the wild, at two to three years of age. They breed in February or March and two months later give birth to 2 to 6 pups. Packs usually consist of an adult breeding pair, young of the year, and young of the previous year (Rancourt 1997).

B. Recovery Efforts

The former range of the red wolf was from southern Florida to central Texas and possibly extending as far north as Kentucky and the Carolinas (Carbyn 1987) (see Map A in Appendix). Since 1961, they are thought to remain only in eastern and southern Louisiana (Mech 1970). As red wolves were pushed out due to predator control, loss of habitat, and loss of prey species, coyotes expanded into their former range. The extirpation of red wolves was also a result of the non-adaptability of red wolves to changing environmental conditions, increased competition with coyotes, and the hybridization between coyotes and red wolves causing a blend of characteristics into a species called Canis niger rufus (the red wolf was originally known as Canis niger ) (Mech 1970). At the beginning of this century, when the number of wild red wolves was so low, the probabilities of finding a mate were slim and interbreeding with coyotes occurred (Parker 1989). Hybridization has aroused a large taxonomic debate over the status of the red wolf. As a result of hybridization, the red wolf came very close to losing its genetic identity and few pure red wolves were left in order to research their genetic uniqueness (Parker 1989).

In 1966, federal predator control programs were abolished in Texas and in the following year the red wolf was designated an endangered species. Full legal state protection was given by Texas and Louisiana in 1970 and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began a recovery plan for the red wolf in 1972; the red wolf was one of the first species ever researched, protected, and recovered by law (Cohn 1987). The focus was to preserve habitat, create education programs for the public, and create a buffer between coyotes and red wolves to halt interbreeding (Cohn 1987). A captive breeding program was a key element in the recovery program. Curtis Carley, a biologist in charge of the FWS program said, " Captive breeding was the only choice. There was no way to save the red wolf in the wild" (Cohn 1987).

The Red Wolf Recovery Plan was set up by the FWS to save the genetic diversity of these predators and to establish viable populations back into the wild. By the early 1970's the only remaining red wolves and red wolf-coyote hybrids were packed along the Sabine River down the Texas-Louisiana border (Nickens 1992). The USFWS trapped more than 400 wolves from Texas and Louisiana. Only 17 of the 400 were determined to be full blooded red wolves and they were used to establish the captive breeding program (Nickens 1992).

In the early 1980's the Prudential Insurance Company offered 118,000 acres of land to the Fish and Wildlife Service in Dare County, North Carolina (Cohn 1987). With the help of the North Carolina Nature Conservancy this land was designated as the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1984 (Cohn 1987). Captive red wolves were initially released on isolated barrier islands in the Southeast during the mid 1980's which led to the 1987 reintroduction into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (Weidensaul 1994). The Alligator River site was ideal because it had a limited number of human inhabitants. It was surrounded by large expanses of water on three sides and was bordered to the south by large corporate farms used primarily to grow crops and timber, not livestock. Only a few roads and farms were located close to the refuge, the area possessed a good, small mammal prey base, and there was an absence of coyotes and feral dogs (Parker 1989). In 1986, four pairs of red wolves were brought to the refuge and placed in holding pens to allow for acclimation (Cohn 1987) and in 1987 they were released.

In 1991, four red wolves were released into Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains, the country's most popular national park (Weidensaul 1994). The initial effort in the Smoky Mountains failed because the wolves weren't "wild " enough and immediately went after turkeys from a local farm (Radetsky 1993). The wolves were captured and a new approach was created; the wolves released must have a sense of fear of humans and a sense of territory in order for them to return to the wild (Radetsky 1993). Subsequent releases in 1992 and 1993 planned to acclimate the wolves in holding pens in order to limit human contact and stress and let them adapt to the new surroundings before releasing them into the wild (Kruezman 1991). In 1993, two pairs gave birth to pups in the wild, even though not all survived, the reintroduction process proved to be a success since the animals were able to breed in the wild. Wolf predation has been minimal. A year after the reintroduction into the Great Smoky Mountains, only two turkeys, one chicken, and a single calf were lost to wolves (Nickens 1992). The owners have been and will continue to be reimbursed for such losses. For occasions when red wolves kill livestock, the USFWS established an indemnity fund to reimburse farmers and a private organization donated $7,500 towards a similar fund for the Great Smoky Mountain reintroduction.

In 1990, the Fish and Wildlife Service completed the Species Survival Plan that called for at least 220 individuals in the wild, in their original range in the southeast part of U.S., and at least 330 in captivity (Manuel 1995). In addition, the USFWS received a 104,000 acre tract 15 miles south and west of Alligator River, now called Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (Manuel 1995). This area is able to hold another 20 to 25 wolves but it is surrounded by private lands and homes. The USFWS set out to get written agreements that would allow wolves on private land. Several landowners agreed (primarily corporations) adding another 188,000 acres to the plan (Manuel 1995). Public hearings still raised concerns such as fear of attacks on pets and livestock so the USFWS promised to remove problem wolves. The reintroduced wolves were given the "experimental, nonessential" designation which relaxes some of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements, enabling more intervention.

The designation of experimental populations enacted by the Endangered Species Act provides the basis for reintroduction's to occur under special regulations. Therefore, the Fish and Wildlife Service has more management flexibility because the reintroduced populations are treated as "threatened" or "proposed to be listed" instead of "endangered" (USFWS 1994). Federal agencies are only required to confer with the FWS in areas outside national parks or wildlife refuges on activities that may inhibit recovery (USFWS1994). Management varies depending on local conditions and opinions. The designation as an experimental population allows a lot of flexibility in management, such as wolf removal and relocation, and was considered the key to the success in the red wolf reintroduction (Fritts 1990). The FWS believes that this designation allows for adequate protection with minimal impact on human activities which secures support from the public since their concerns are addressed (Fritts 1990).

There was a large concern about whether or not the animals would leave the refuge since red wolves are only protected within it and not outside of it (Cohn 1987). Since these wolves were designated as experimental and nonessential they could be shot by the public if they were caught harassing livestock. It was difficult to pre-determine the possible amount of conflict. In order to reduce conflicts, each wolf released was radio-collared to track their movements.

In September of 1993, wolves were reintroduced into Pocosin Lakes but before long individuals began to show up at roadsides and in backyards. A woman reported seeing her cat being carried off by a wolf and 20 geese were reported missing. No evidence was found but radiotelemetry signals indicated that two wolves were in the area. The wolves were captured, released in Alligator River, and the farmer was given a new flock of geese. Another farmer lost 11 goats over several months. Other predators, such as fox, bobcat, bear, and coyote exist in the area but the farmer was reimbursed $20 per goat. There was one confirmed wolf kill on a hunting dog. No one witnessed the incident but a photo was taken of the mauled body and USFWS determined it was probably caused by a wolf. The principal public fear was the possibility of a hungry red wolf attacking a child. There have been no documented cases in recent times of a healthy red wolf attacking a human (confirmed by L. David Mech); Michael Morse, a Fisheries and Wildlife biologist with the red wolf program, points out that, "The more of these animals that are born in the wild, the less they will show up in people's yards and on the roadside."(Manuel 1995). The fear and misunderstanding of wolves led two counties in North Carolina to pass resolutions demanding the removal of the wolves. On November 9th, 1994 an endangered red wolf was killed in North Carolina (Manuel 1995). A second wolf was shot on December 31st that same year, the day before a new state law was passed permitting the killing of wolves on private property (Manuel 1995). Both killings took place on private property just outside of the wildlife refuge boundaries. No arrests were made.

On July 1, 1994 the North Carolina General Assembly ratified a bill entitled "An Act to Allow the Trapping and Killing of Red Wolves by Owners of Private Land" (Red Wolf vol.7, 1994). Ratification of the act was based on the opinions in Hyde and Washington counties that the wolves are a threat to livestock, wildlife, and people. The North Carolina law took effect January 1, 1995. The strongest opposition came from a man who owns 10,000 acres on which he manages hunting of white-tailed deer (Red Wolf, vol. 7, 1994). The deer population on his land is very large but he fears the wolves will have a great impact on the number of deer. Probably fewer than 50 deer may be killed each year by wolves but the land owner wants the wolves completely removed from his property.

The opposition formed a group called CROWN (Citizens Rights Over Wolves Now) who, with Hyde County, sent the USFWS and the Department of the Interior a letter of intent to sue. They claim that the ESA, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Constitution have been violated by the red wolf reintroduction program in North Carolina (Wolf! No. 4, 1996). The main basis of the lawsuit was the debate over the genetic status of the red wolf. In 1989, mitochondrial DNA analyses by Robert K. Wayne and John L. Gittleman indicated that the red wolf may actually be a hybrid of the coyote and the gray wolf (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). Since its species identity is in question, CROWN believes the red wolf should not be allowed protection under the ESA. The letter requested that killing of red wolves be allowed and they should be delisted from the ESA or a lawsuit would be filed (Wolf! No. 4, Fall 1996). As long as the wolves that are released in the reintroduction program remain on public property, CROWN does not oppose their existence. But if they stray onto private property, CROWN wants them to be destroyed.

Sheep and cattle ranchers in North Carolina are petitioning to remove the red wolf from the ESA, because it is not a genetically unique species. The USFWS is redrafting its regulations but expected date of completion of regulations on hybrids is still unknown. In the Great Smoky Mountains, a family of wolves killed some calves and had to be returned to captivity. A second family has been released, whose fate (as of 1995) has not been determined. However, in 1997, the wild population estimates were at 25 in the Smoky Mountains and 60 are believed to exist in Alligator River area (Rancourt 1997). Regulations are being drafted to further relax management restrictions.

In the beginning of the reintroduction program any person could shoot a wolf in defense of human life. Four additional points are being considered for incorporation into regulations. The four points under consideration are: (1) any person may kill red wolves on private land provided that the killing is not intentional or willful. Intentional action will be prosecuted, (2) a landowner or an individual with landowners permission may harass red wolves found on their property, provided that harassment is not lethal or physically dangerous to the wolf, (3) a landowner may kill a wolf on their property if it is caught in the act of killing livestock or pets, as long as evidence is presented, and (4) a landowner may kill a problem wolf on his/her land as long as efforts to capture the wolf by the USFWS have been abandoned and the owner has written permission from the USFWS (Red Wolf vol.8, 1995). This revised rule was published as a final rule in the Federal Register on April 23, 1995 (Red Wolf vol.8. 1995). These activities will not be considered violations as long as the incidences are reported within 24 hours to the Service or State wildlife enforcement officer (Red Wolf vol. 8, 1995). As a result of all the lawsuits and new regulations, the USFWS reintroduction is threatened and the long term survival of the red wolf in the wild is again questionable.

C. Red Wolf Timeline Updates September 1987-December 1994: Release of 63 captive born red wolves throughout the reintroduction period in Alligator River. Total numbers included the presence of 66 wolves in the wild (Wolf! No. 2/3, Spring/Summer 1995).

In Spring 1994 : In the Great Smoky Mountains, eighty cattle calves were born and only one was reported missing. At Cades cove most wolf scats contained woodchucks, deer and rabbits. Although when cattle were moved to hilly, wooded area, predation increased because wolves were able to hide. (Wolf! No. 2/3, Spring/Summer 1995). In the wild, 16 red wolf pups were born. Eight to Tremont pack, 3 to Cades Cove pack, and 5 to the two year old daughter from Cades Cove pack (Wolf! No.2, 1994).

December 1994 : minimum numbers of wild red wolves were estimated at 43, numbers vary due to uncertainty of how many pups are born in the wild and survive. Of the wolves monitored, 37 were born in the wild, and 6 were born in captivity and released. (Wolf! No. 2/3, Spring/Summer 1995).

February 1995 : eight wild pairs were expected to breed, an estimated result of 25-30 pups. (Wolf! No.2/3, Spring/Summer 1995)

June 28, 1995 : eight more red wolves were released in the Great Smoky Mountains, 2 adults, one yearling, and 5 pups. This doubles the reintroduced population and adds to the 90 that are living in the wild within the U.S. (Wolf! No.2/3, Spring/Summer 1995).

August 1995: estimates at 70-80 wolves and in a few years the population is expected to reach 100 (Wolf! No.2/3, Spring/Summer 1995). Thirty eight free ranging wolves were confirmed in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes, in North Carolina (Wolf! Fall 1995/Winter 1996). In November, the total dropped to 34 but by December there was 36 (Wolf! Fall 1995/Winter1996). Deaths have been documented, some are due to natural causes and at least three have been shot. Since the law, to legally shoot a wolf on private property, was passed in two counties of North Carolina in January 1995, by the spring, four wolves had been shot, one trapped and drowned, and a sixth was captured by biologists at the request of a citizen. This individual broke its leg in captivity and had to be euthanized (Wolf! Fall 1995/Winter 1996).

June 1996: total wolf numbers were at 40 in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes. In January there had been 39, in March 44, and in April there were 40 (Wolf! vol. XIV Spring/Summer 1996).

Fall 1996: In 1995, 41 wolves died and another 26 in the first half of 1996 (Wolf! No. 4, Fall 1996). A total of 38 wild born pups were born in 1995 and 31 more in 1996 (Wolf! No. 4, Fall 1996). In the Great Smoky Mountains, as of September 1996, nine collared wolves were being monitored and a total of 14 pups in three litters were born and documented (Wolf! No.4, Fall 1996). A plan for livestock containment during calving season was implemented. Expecting mothers are placed in a corral with an electric fence before giving birth and new calves are tagged to help monitor movement and survival.

Winter 1997: Since Sept. 1987, 70 captive reared wolves have been released. There have been 476 reported wolf sightings and a minimum of 106 pups born in the wild (Wolf! Vol. XV, Winter 1997) Currently there are around 76 wolves are in the wild. They are monitored by radiotelemetry and have an area totaling 551,865 acres. Since the initial reintroduction 41 wolf complaints have been reported, 21 of the 41 actually involved wolves and only one proved to be a depredation (Wolf! Vol. XV, Winter 1997). In October 1996, one pup was found dead due to vehicle collision. No mortalities occurred in captivity. In December 1996 two wolves had died, one was hit by a car and one died from mange (See Table 1). By Sept. 1997 the beginning of the 10th year of the USFWS program 80 to 100 red wolves were expected to be established in North Carolina, of which more than 95% will have been born in the wild (Morse 1997).

August 2002: Within the red wolf diet section, recent scat studies are showing that little to no birds are present in the red wolf diet.

August 2002: New evidence is showing the red wolf original range extended into New England (See Nowak 2002 link on this site)

Table 1


Cause of death Captive
Free Ranging
Collision with vehicles: 12 4
natural causes: 7 1
intra-specific strife: 5 2
unknown: 5 3
drowning: 3 0
illegal gunshot: 4 3
mange: 1 2
private traps: 1 1
handling process: 1 1
ingestion of pesticide: 0 3


D. The Red Wolf Debate

(Discussion of the paper: Wayne, Robert, K. and John L. Gittleman. July 1995. "The Problematic Red Wolf" Scientific American. p 36(6).)

The genetic identity of the red wolf, protected under the Endangered Species Act, has recently come under scientific and political scrutiny. New evidence is suggesting that the red wolf may be a hybrid of the coyote and the gray wolf.

When the red wolf was on the brink of extinction, the USFWS, under the authority of the ESA, took quick action to establish a captive breeding program. This was a difficult task since so few pure red wolves remained. Scientists were able to find 17 red wolves that had no trace of coyote ancestry and developed a healthy population from these individuals. The preservation effort has been a great success and serves as a model for how to rescue endangered species from extinction. However, saving a species through captive breeding and reintroduction is expensive. The projected budget for the USFWS field study and maintenance of captive breeding facilities, from 1995 - 2000 is $ 4.5 million ( Wayne and Gittleman 1995). The cost of recovery programs for endangered species has initiated speculation on the type of criteria used by scientists to decide which animals receive the greatest protection (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). The ESA currently applies to all types of endangered species, regardless of whether they are species, subspecies, or even hybrids. Yet in the midst of the biodiversity crisis, scientists are faced with challenging decisions of which organisms to save and how much attention is required or can be given.

What is a species? There is no widely accepted definition, so deciding whether a certain population constitutes a species can be very problematic. Ernst W. Mayr, a evolutionary biologist, developed the "biological species concept" to define a species (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). The definition was based on reproductive compatibility; a species is a group of animals that can mate with one another and produce fertile offspring but cannot mate successfully with another group (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). This definition may not ring true for the canine family because it is too restrictive (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). Many members of the canid family are able to interbreed and it is quite common in nature. In addition, unrelated reproductive traits may be different in two populations but this may not prevent them from interbreeding. It is also difficult to determine whether two groups of animals that do not live close to one another are capable of interbreeding. The red wolf would not be considered a species under this definition because it is able to successfully interbreed with the coyote and gray wolf.

Another tool to define a species is the use of phenotypes, an organism's observable characteristics. Two species that evolved separately are likely to have distinct traits for specialization in their own ecological niche. Phenotypic evidence of the red wolf has been misleading and conclusions vary because red wolves can closely resemble coyotes. Another way to define a species is to look for unique characteristics specific to a group of organisms. The strongest evidence that red wolves are a separate species comes from Ronald M. Nowak of the Fish and Wildlife Service (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). In 1979, Nowak investigated 15 cranial and dental characteristics of domestic dogs, red wolves, coyotes, and gray wolves (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). The size and structure of skulls of the red wolves collected before 1930, were in-between the coyote and gray wolf and Nowak concluded that the skulls were uniquely distinguishable. Nowak examined the fossil record as well. He determined that the red wolf first appeared around one million years ago, in the early Pleistocene, before the coyote or gray wolf appeared (Wayne and Gittleman 1995).

The skulls that Nowak examined, dated after 1930, appeared to more closely resemble the coyote. He theorized that since the 1930's red wolves were becoming rare due to predator control and habitat destruction. The red wolves that remained began to interbreed with the coyote and the "hybrid" evolved. In 1989, Robert K. Wayne and John L. Gittleman performed extensive genetic analyses that they anticipated would help prove that red wolves were a unique species. They believed that the cranial data was ambiguous so they set out to determine if the red wolf possessed a unique trait that would distinguish itself as a distinct species. They examined segments of DNA from the nucleus and mitochondria of cells from red wolves that were currently in the captive breeding program and compared them to similar segments in coyotes and gray wolves. No evidence was found to distinguish the red wolf from the other two species. One region of mitochondrial DNA of red wolves was identical to that of coyotes living in Louisiana. In addition, they examined samples from red wolves, coyotes, and their hybrids that were captured in Texas between 1974 and 1976 during the establishment of the captive breeding program. Gene sequences characteristic of coyotes and gray wolves were found but no unique red wolf patterns.

Previous mitochondrial DNA analyses of gray wolf and coyote characteristics in Minnesota and eastern Canada showed similar patterns (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). Many of these gray wolves carried coyote mitochondrial DNA. Coyotes had entered into these areas during the previous 90 years as wolf populations decreased. Wolves began to interbreed with coyotes and produced hybrids. When male gray wolves mated with female coyotes, the offspring inherited only the mitochondrial DNA of the coyote but their nuclear DNA was a combination of gray wolf and coyote (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). As the wolf populations have expanded, some of the hybrid characteristics have been lost due to back-crossing, where a hybrid mates with a pure gray wolf.

Based on their findings and the previous background research, Wayne and Gittleman began to suspect that earlier generations were pure red wolves, but most of the red wolves in the captive breeding program were more like hybrids. If the red wolf was historically a distinct species, then old samples should reveal the unique genetic sequence (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). The Smithsonian Institute allowed Wayne and Gittleman to collect six red wolf skins from their fur vault that dated back before 1930. They examined the mitochondrial DNA and again found no sequences different from the coyote or gray wolf. They concluded that the red wolf may not be a unique species. Their findings were not widely accepted, especially by the USFWS, who still argued that the evidence collected by Nowak was enough to prove that the red wolf was an ancestor of the gray wolf.

Wayne and Gittleman continued their search for more evidence and decided to look at nuclear DNA. They based this work on studies done by Diethard Tautz, with the University of Munich, who found some short, simple, and common sequences of nucleotides that repeat themselves in nuclear DNA at particular sites called microsatellites (Wayne and Gittleman 1995). The repetition of the microsatellites varies from species to species. They examined microsatellite DNA from contemporary gray wolves, coyotes, and red wolves as well as samples from before 1930. No evidence was found that the DNA of red wolves was clearly distinct from gray wolves and coyotes of the same time period (Wayne and Gittleman 1995).

All of their cumulative evidence led Wayne and Gittleman to a hypothesis that has been widely accepted but still debated in some circles. They believe that crossbreeding occurred between the coyote and gray wolf in recent history, possibly beginning as European settlements expanded in the 1700's. Agricultural conversion of woodlands cut into the wolves' habitat and wolf numbers began to decrease. The coyote-wolf hybrids had characteristics that were later classified as red wolf attributes. As gray wolves approached extinction in the lower 48, the hybrids mated more frequently with coyotes and their appearance become even more coyote-like. This corresponds with the trend in skull characteristics found by Nowak, that red wolves became more coyote like after the 1930's. This crossbreeding was extensive by the 20th century, so red wolves captured in the 1930's are very similar to those that were captured for the captive breeding program in the 1970's. Wayne and Gittleman suggest that this is good news for the breeding program because the reestablishment of the captive wolves into the wild has preserved the genetic makeup possessed by the wild red wolf. However, it is disappointing to those who believed that the program was saving a long distinct species.

If guidelines for endangered species protection focus solely on species status then these findings can greatly endanger the red wolf recovery program. Wayne and Gittleman recognized this and mentioned compelling reasons for protection to continue. First, the captive breeding program may have preserved unique physical or behavioral characteristics that have yet to be recognized. Some of these characteristics may have developed because of the rocky evolution of the red wolf and may not be created by crossbreeding of modern gray wolves and coyotes. Second, some people hypothesize that the red wolf arose from the crossbreeding of the coyote and a gray wolf subspecies that is now extinct. The red wolf may be the last reserve of genes from an extinct subspecies that should be preserved. Third, in an ecological perspective, red wolves play an important role in many ecosystems. They are important predators of rodents, rabbits, and deer, especially in south central United States. The red wolf may fill a unique niche that even the coyote can not completely fill.

What can be done to protect the red wolf and maintain the recovery program? Wayne and Gittleman suggest that conservation programs must strive to keep red wolves from breeding with coyotes. A small number of red wolves will have difficulty defending themselves from the more aggressive coyote. If several red wolf packs are re-established into an area, they will have more of a chance of survival, genetic and physical. In consideration under the ESA and other regulations, biologists must strive to look beyond the classification of an endangered hybrid or subspecies. Biologists should look towards the unique function an organism has in an ecosystem or unusual physical or behavioral characteristics that can not be recreated from crossbreeding contemporary individuals. The fact that the red wolf may carry the genes of a unique subspecies of gray wolf supports this idea. Another supporting factor is that hybrid species may be isolated from their ancestral species and develop into a separate species. Perhaps this is happening with the red wolf and we are witnessing the evolutionary process. This extensive DNA analysis highlighted the difficulties of determining how to classify endangered species, subspecies, or hybrids in protection efforts. Conservation biologist are faced with this challenge and must tackle it in order to make the best choices to preserve biodiversity throughout the world.