SCIENTIFIC NAME: Canis lupus
STATUS: Federally protected as endangered in the lower 48, except in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
HABITAT: Broadly defined, wherever there is sufficient prey and large blocks of habitat with few humans.
LIFE HISTORY: Highly social; live in packs of typically four or more related individuals, led by a dominant pair, male and female, who mate. Packs defend territories that range from 10 square miles to 1,000 square miles, dependent on prey availability.
THREATS: Persistent intolerance among humans to wolves' presence, loss of habitat.
FORMER RANGE: Entire northern hemisphere.
CURRENT POPULATION: About 4,400 in the lower 48 states; estimated 1,300 in Rocky Mountain West, 3,000 in Great Lakes and 60 in New Mexico and Arizona.
Wolves are the ancestors of every breed of domestic dog from pugs to poodles, but for decades, they were treated as anything but man's best friend. Colonists to North America arrived with a hatred and fear of wolves and established bounties as early as 1607 to kill the animals. As the settlers killed off more and more of the wolves' traditional prey, such as buffalo and elk, wolves turned more and more to hunting livestock -- setting off a rivalry that continues today.
A federal agent shot what was considered the last wolf in Yellowstone Park in 1930. In 1995, 22 years after the gray wolf was listed as an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched an ambitious program to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone Park and the wildlands of Idaho's Selway Bitterroot ecosystem. The 66 reintroduced wolves bred and prospered, and there are now an estimated 1,300 wolves in the Rocky Mountain West.
The federal government has proposed removing Rocky Mountain wolves from the endangered species list. NRDC is engaged in a campaign to oppose this premature removal of federal protections, which would threaten the wolves' comeback and open the door for states to kill hundreds of wolves.