Once on the rebound, red wolves of the Southeast face an uncertain future I don’t expect to see red wolf tracks five minutes after we turn off the gravel road. But here they are in the mud, the impression of each toepad punctuated by the wolf’s distinctive clawtips. One perfectly formed print, pressed deep in the mud following days of rain, is hardening in the summer sun like a plaster mold. Honored to stand on turf where the world’s most endangered canid recently passed, I am hoping it is a sign that we will see an actual wolf today or at least hear one howl. Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition—a Defenders partner—follows the trail until it disappears into the brush. “I’m looking for smaller paw prints,” she tells me. An adult red wolf from the Milltail pack—the only pack that resides completely within Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina—has been spotted recently in a nearby cornfield. Rumor has it, this pack had seven pups in spring. Lanky and lean, red wolves—the far less famous cousin of the larger gray wolf in the Northern Rockies—once ranged all the way from Texas, east to Georgia and up to Pennsylvania. But by the 1970s, hunting, habitat loss and a hatred that led to irrational persecution had reduced the species to a remnant population in swampy, remote parts of coastal Texas and Louisiana. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists took the very last 17 individuals on the planet into captivity and in a never-before-tried, last-ditch effort to prevent extinction of the species, began a captive-breeding program. In 1987, they reintroduced red wolf pairs onto the refuge. Here, they successfully denned and raised pups.