Are There Wolves in Texas? Discover Their History in the State

Written by Niccoy Walker
Published: July 25, 2022
© David Dirga/
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Wolves spark both adoration and fear in the hearts of men. Their penetrative stares, intimidating stances, and spine-tingling howls are nothing short of enchanting. But encounter them in the wild, and you’ll only notice sharp white teeth and glowing eyes. Fortunately, if you are in Texas, you won’t have to worry about coming face to face with a wolf, at least not yet.

 Are there wolves in Texas? Find out the complicated answer.

Are There Wolves in Texas?

wolf staring
There are no wolves in Texas. All wolf species in Texas became extinct, or extirpated, by the late 1980s.

©Paul Aparicio/

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For now, there are no wolves in Texas. At one point, there were two wolf species in Texas: the southeastern red wolf and the gray wolf. There was also a subspecies of the gray wolf called the Mexican gray wolf. On March 11, 1967, gray wolves were listed as endangered. By 1970, red and gray wolves were extinct (extirpated) in Texas. The Mexican gray wolf became extinct in the Texas wild during the late 1980s.

Today there is only one place in Texas where you can see wolves: The Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary in Montgomery. The sanctuary is home to around a dozen rescued wolves or wolf-dog hybrids. 

Southeastern Red Wolf

Red wolves are medium-sized wolves with reddish coats. This species is native to the United States, and research concludes that they are a unique breed. Red wolves are about four feet in length, around 26-inches tall, and can weigh between 45 and 80 pounds. People often mistake them for coyotes, but they are significantly larger. 

They once populated most of the Southeast, from New York to mid-Texas, living mainly in marshes and coastal plains. Wolves are social animals that form close packs, and red wolves are no exception. This species mates for life, and its pack consists of a breeding pair and their offspring for many years. Their diet mainly consists of deer and small mammals.

Captive breeding increased this wolf population, and in 1998, scientists released them into a North Carolina refuge in the Smokey Mountains. There were once hundreds of them living freely, but their numbers have declined to less than 35. Red wolves are now the most endangered member of the canine family.

Mexican Gray Wolf

The Mexican gray wolf, or Lobo, is a subspecies of the gray wolf native to parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. It’s distinguished from the traditional gray wolf by its narrow head, yellowish-gray fur, and overall size. It is the smallest species of North American gray wolf.

After the US put them on the Endangered Species List in 1976, the US and Mexico captured the remaining and put them in a captive breeding program. The bred wolves from the program were released into Arizona and New Mexico recovery areas in 1998. Today their numbers are much better, with over 350 in programs and at least 186 in the wild. 

History of Wolves in Texas

Wild Dog Breeds: Red Wolf
Red and gray wolves were abundant in Texas before the US started a project to reduce their population significantly.


Before the Civil War, red and gray wolves were abundant in the state. They naturally separated their packs, with red wolves inhabiting the eastern half and gray wolves living in the west. In fact, gray wolves were so plentiful they occupied most of the northern hemisphere. 

By the mid-1800s, wolf skins became popular, and hunters would kill off a large number of wolf packs at one time with poison that they sprinkled on Texas buffalo. The buffalo disappeared in Texas in the late 1800s, and before long, wolves were feasting on commercial livestock. Their numbers were so numerous that officials began paying bounties to reduce their population.

 In 1915, the US Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) started a predator control project focused on reducing wolf numbers. The organization believed they needed to deploy intensive efforts “Until the last animal is taken.”  Between 1915 and 1966, government trappers killed over 34,000 wolves in Texas. The numbers are much higher as it does not account for private landowners and hunters. 

Hunters killed the last two gray wolves in 1970, and the few remaining red wolves (14) were captured and sent to a breeding program. Occasionally, people report seeing red wolves in East Texas, but officials state they are coyote hybrids, not genetically pure wolves. 

Are Wolves Making a Comeback in Texas?

Howling timber wolf in the woods.
Environmentalist groups are pushing for the reintroduction of wolves into Big Bend National Park in Texas.

©Allison Coffin/

Wolf restoration efforts in Texas have continued for decades. Environmental groups have tried to convince the government to reintroduce wolves into Big Bend National Park. The endorsement of political leaders brought significant attention to the issue, but stakeholders decided they were not interested in getting wolves to Texas national parks. Instead, officials focused on releasing wolves into areas of Arizona and New Mexico.

 While there is plenty of suitable habitations for wolves in Texas, the state has no plans to reintroduce wolves, gain stakeholder support, or work on a restoration plan in the Chihuahuan Desert. The Texas Wildlife Code states that no one can release a wolf into the state, but it doesn’t specify if conservation efforts could pursue in the future. 

Environmentalists hope for the future—many people who agreed with the old code no longer own land. And new land owners in Texas feel strongly about preserving nature and wildlife in the area. There are plenty of large areas for wolf habitats on private and public land, but political will is lacking.

Should Wolves Be Released in Texas?

People in the state have strong opinions about wolves in Texas. Stockmen complained about their livestock being picked off by relentless packs of wolves. And some still believe that Texas is better off without these aggressive dogs. Officials in the state encouraged the extermination of wolves but later came to regret that decision.

 Activists feel strongly that wolves belong in Texas as it is their natural heritage, but also because they can help with overpopulation. Without wolves, deer are overpopulated, and habitats are never the same. Finally, releasing wolves into the more controlled environment of a national park could keep them off the endangered species list and allow humans to view these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

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Wolf pack
There are two species of wolves in the world; the red wolf and the gray wolf.
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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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