Top 3 places to see red wolves in North Carolina
I still remember my grandmother whispering "if you don't fall asleep straight away the wolf will come looking for you". As a five year old, this could possibly be the scariest thing ever said to me. I would hide under the covers with my eyes shut but still unable to sleep. The only sound I could hear was the one of my own heartbeat which my child imagination mistook for the wolf's footsteps getting closer. He was going to get me!
30 years on and that nightmare became my dream. I guess that is the price you pay when a wolf looks right into your eyes undressing your soul. After travelling around Europe with the purpose of stuying wolves I have recently landed in North Carolina.
But there are no gray wolves in North Carolina. I had heard that some red wolves still roam free in the South.
It was once thought that the red wolf was a type of gray wolf (also known as timber wolf). Recent advances in genetics determined that the red wolf is really a different species of wolf. Some authorities in wolf research believe that the red wolf is native to the southearstern seabord of North America, and that preceeded the evolution of the gray wolf.
If you compare both species of wolves you will find that the red wolf is smaller, with longer legs, smaller feet and with a delicate appearance. Their muzzles are longer and their ears are prominent and pointed. Their fur is almost brown and cinamon in colour with their pelage being less heavy as the one of gray wolves. Most have some red on their head ears and legs, hence their name.
Today the number of wild red wolves living in North Carolina are as low as 100-130! Some 208 wolves live in captivity in zoos that participate with the captive breeding program to recuperate the species.
I could not believe there were only 300 red wolves left. So my quest to see them started...
There are a total of 42 AZA approved wildlife centers and zoos all over the country where you can see the red wolf. They all participate in the Red Wolf Species Survival Program and collectively manage a population of 208 wolves as a genetic reservoir. 42 centers are a fair amount of places to choose from but this is a big country and I wanted to find out where to see wolves in North Carolina right on my doorstep.
Red wolves can be seen at six places in NC but my top 3 are:
- WNC Nature Center in Asheville
- North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro
- Alligator River National River Refuge in Manteo
WNC Nature Center
The WNC Nature Center in Asheville exhibits animals and plants that are native to this region, the Southern Apalachians. In here you won't find elephants or lions, just truly native animals such as the black bear, bobcat, racoons, gray and red wolves and otters amongst others.
The vast majority of the animals in the Center have been rescued, either found as orphans, confiscated from illegal situations or accident survivors. So when you come and visit them you really are helping them.
The red wolf enclosure is located at the top of the hill with young trees around so if you are a proffessional or an amateur photographer you cannot miss the opportunity of getting decent shots of red wolves with the soft light of late afternoon. You can almost see their coats glow. Also you can take advantage of the huge windows that separate you from the wolves. There is a 100% view of the enclosure. If they are nowhere to be seen, try to peek in their wooden houses, or they might just be right on top of them!
The wolves that live in the Nature center are a pair and one of their offspring, a yearling female. She is always interested in playing with sticks and if your camera has a big lens you will certainly have her interested in you. As a playful young wolf she will make your visit worthwile.
And your entry is free if you are a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
Tip: If you plan on having lunch at the center, bring your lunch as they do not have food service. They have a couple of drink machines though.
North Carolina Zoo
This must be one of the best zoos I have ever been in.
You are going to need some comfy shoes though if you visit it. Its 1,100 animals and 40,000 plants are located along 5 miles of shaded pathways in a total of 500 acres.
As opposed of the WNC Nature Center, the North Carolina Zoo does not only houses local wildlife, but it offers home to animals from the american and the african continent. Walk from the African Savannah visiting lions, lemurs, red river hogs and gorillas to the American Arctic where polar bears and arctic foxes live. Complete your American tour visiting cougars, alligators, snakes, bison and the red wolf amongst others.
The red wolf enclosure is located midway between the African and the American sections. Although the view is not as great as in the WNC Nature Center (and the amount of shade does not allow the great sunset light) the wolves are always on view. Also they are not as close as the former as the pool is what separates them from you, so there is always a few feet between visitors and the wolves.
Don't forget to visit the Sonora Desert exhibit, it is a real gem.
You also get free entrance if you are a member of AZA.
Tip: if you are planning on having lunch in the park don't try their hot dogs. With Washington DC prices and fast food quality you will be better off stopping at one of the zoo's cafes for nice salads, wraps or burgers.
Alligator River National River Refuge
This is what I am talking about. Seeing wolves in the wild with no fences or glasses between you. Well, maybe just the glass of your camera lens.
The Alligator River National River Refuge is one of three national wildlife refuges where the red wolf still roams free. The refuge together with Pocosin Lakes and Mattamuskeet is contained in the boundaries of the red wolf restoration area. This area encompasses 1.7 million acres in northeastern North Carolina in five counties: Dare, Tyrrell, Washington, Beaufort and Hyde.
And here is where the red wolf was saved from extinction. This is where the first red wolf reintroduction happened back in 1987. The place that is keeping the red wolves wild.
But this place comes with a warning. You might not see a red wolf after all. But if you do, consider yourself the luckiest person in the whole world.
The best time to try and see them is at dusk or dawn, along forest edges. Don't despair if you don't see a wolf. The Red Wolf Coalition runs howling programs throughout the summer and a few days in fall. An informational session on this endangered species precedes the howling. You will never forget the sound of wolves answering your call! For a great experience plan your visit accordingly. You can first drive around spotting wolves and then join one of their howling sessions.
Either way you won't be disappointed as along the way you can also spot river otters, black bears, white tailed deer, alligators, racoons, birds of prey, water birds and migrating songbirds.
Learn about the efforts to save the red wolf at the Alligator River Refuge
Top places to see red wolves in NC
Living museum of plants and animals native to the southern Appalachian region
Visit animals that live in the habitats of North America and Africa.
One of the last remaining strongholds for red wolf
Learn more about the red wolf
- International Wolf Center
The International Wolf Center provides complete wolf information on wolf biology, their environment and interaction with humans.
- Red Wolf Coalition - Connecting people, places and red wolves
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