Meet the Asian Red Wolf, Another Beautiful Species Disappearing from the Planet

Red wolves roamed the entire Northern Hemisphere during the Ice Ages, now there are fewer than 2000 left in South Asia

Credit: PictureByPali

We’ve all heard of grey wolves, and red foxes, but few of us have ever heard of red wolves, which actually look like a cross between the two (with bigger ears and smaller jaws than grey wolves).

Red wolves used to roam the entire northern half of the planet, during the last Ice Age, but after the glacial retreat (around 12,000 years ago) the vast majority of survivors remained only in Asia, though some lived in Russia as late as the 1800s.

Today, only an estimated 950-2200 red wolves remain in South Asia. A couple of dozen animals known as “red wolves” also remain in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, but it is unclear whether they are related. The North American red wolves once existed all along the East Coast, from Canada to Mexico.

Red wolves (also known as dholes, mountain wolves, Indian wild dogs and whistling dogs) are more sociable/egalitarian and less domineering than grey-wolves. They live in packs of up to 40 wolves, with adult members playing with and licking one another, and adults making sure pups always eat first. There is usually a dominant alpha pair, but they are much less aggressive toward beta pack members than grey wolves.

Credit: Dublin Zoo

Asian red wolves are less than half the size of grey wolves (22-46 pounds), while North Carolina red wolves are about the size of coyotes (50-85 pounds).

North Carolina red wolf

They are more endangered than tigers and leopards, but get far less attention from scientists, conservationists and the media.

Like other endangered species in Asia, the primary threats to these mountain dwellers is competition with humans for habitat – deforestation for agriculture, urban and suburban development. They are perceived by farmers as “livestock killers” and are poisoned or hunted.

Credit: PictureByPali

Before European colonization of America, red wolves were revered by the Cherokee people. The red wolf was thought to be the companion of Kana’ti – the god-like hunter and father figure of the Wolf Clan. Traditionally, the Cherokee people avoided killing red wolves, as they believed it brought about the vengeance of their pack-mates.