Mistaken identity: coyote or red wolf?

In my first post about red wolves, I discussed the physical and genetic similarities that coyotes and red wolves share. I also showed pictures of both species as a comparison. These two animals are very difficult to tell apart, especially if it is from a distance while one runs through the grass or across the road. Although each species has their own specific body dimensions such as height, length of the legs and snout, and the degree of bushiness in the tail, these differences would not be obvious to the untrained eye.

Adult red wolves are taller and longer in body structure, and weigh more than coyotes. The red wolf also normally has a broad muzzle and head, while the coyote’s is narrow. However, a juvenile red wolf would certainly have some of the smaller dimensions associated with a coyote than an adult red wolf would, and this sometimes leads to mistaken identity by hunters. Since it is legal to hunt coyotes, accidental red wolf shootings are an unfortunate result.

In fact, gunshot mortality of red wolves has been increasing over the last few years. This has a large impact on the wild population because it breaks up the breeding pairs that have been established. The 2005-2006 breeding season started with 22 breeding pairs and ended with 15 pairs because of gunshot mortality. Statistics have also shown that red wolves are now 7 times more likely to be killed during the 79-day hunting season than for the rest of the year!

In an effort to curb this growing problem, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a pocket-sized card to help educate hunters on the differences of the two species. The card also asks hunters not to shoot east of Highway 32, where the entire population of red wolves (and the lowest population of coyotes) resides. These cards are now given to people when they get a hunter’s license. Hopefully this, along with other local education measures, will help to cut down on the amount of red wolves that are lost each year to gunshot.

You can see a better version of the hunter’s education card here. Also, you can click here to read a previous post that shows a more detailed view of the red wolf recovery area.

Both canid photos above are red wolves, but can easily be mistaken for coyotes when they are seen from long distances or moving quickly.

“Red Wolf on the Run” photo courtesy of Thomas Lewis, USFWS.

“Red Wolf on Pungo Road” photo courtesy of Mike Dunn.

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