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July 08, 2024

Saint Louis Zoo celebrates successful first American red wolf breeding season at Wildlife Reserve in Franklin County

Pups born at the Saint Louis Zoo Sears Lehmann, Jr. Wildlife Reserve are members of the most endangered species of wolf in the world.

ST. LOUIS (July 8, 2024) – Four American red wolf (Canis rufus) pups were born this spring in the first-ever breeding season at Saint Louis Zoo Sears Lehmann, Jr. Wildlife Reserve, the Zoo’s Franklin County property dedicated to conserving the most endangered wolf species in the world.

A female pup named Otter was born April 26 to parents Lava, age 8, and Tyke, age 9, who came to the Wildlife Reserve in late 2023 from the Wolf Conservation Center in New York.

Red wolf pup during first checkup at the Wildlife Reserve in June 2024.
A red wolf pup during a first checkup at the Wildlife Reserve in June 2024. Photo courtesy of Sara Burran

Three more pups, Molly (female,) Finn (male,) and Obi (male,) were born May 4 to first-time parents Ladybird, age 3, and Wilber, age 8.

All four pups were healthy and thriving at their first checkups in late June.

The three pups’ mother Ladybird came to the Wildlife Reserve from the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri. Father Wilber was transported to the reserve from Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Florida by conservation aviation nonprofit LightHawk (

The Zoo opened the Wildlife Reserve in 2022, answering the call to help keep this keystone American species from extinction. Only about 20 red wolves remain in the wild today. The species can now only be found in the wild in North Carolina. An additional 290 red wolves live in human care as of May 2024.

“When you consider how few red wolves remain, each birth is an achievement,” said Sabarras George, Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Park, who oversees the Wildlife Reserve. “I am incredibly proud of the team who have worked for years to reach this milestone.”

The Wildlife Reserve is not open to visitors to give the 17 resident red wolves privacy, allowing them to maintain natural behaviors and survival skills with limited human interaction. Red wolves are naturally shy and run away from people. The Wildlife Reserve aims to maintain that important behavior to keep the red wolves safe should they ever be selected for release into the wild.

The red wolf is the only large carnivore solely native to the United States. The species is distinguished from gray wolves through its smaller size at about 65 pounds and the reddish fur often found around its head, ears and legs.

The species once roamed Missouri, Arkansas and across much of the southern and eastern U.S.—from Texas to New York state. Unfortunately, red wolves we

Red wolf pup during first checkup at the Wildlife Reserve in June 2024.
Red wolf pup during first checkup at the Wildlife Reserve in June 2024. Photo courtesy of Sara Burran.

re driven to near extinction in Missouri and most of their historic range. The species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. A wild red wolf has not been spotted in Missouri since the 1950s.

The Wildlife Reserve red wolf breeding program

operates in partnership with two main partners. The first is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) American Red Wolf Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Program. The SAFE Program helps manage red wolves in human care at over 50 institutions across the United States and works on conservation efforts for the species in the field.

The Zoo also partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for managing the wild red wolf population and reintroduction efforts in the U.S. In September 2023, the Service released a revised Red Wolf Recovery Plan, which can be found here:

For the 2023-2024 breeding season, SAFE identified 33 breeding pairs of red wolves across the country, including three breeding pairs at the Wildlife Reserve.

"The Service extends a heartfelt congratulations to the Saint Louis Zoo on the birth of four red wolf pups. This is a remarkable achievement, and we thank Saint Louis Zoo for their commitment and contribution to the recovery of this endangered species," said Emily Weller, Red Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The births of red wolves in SAFE institutions, such as these litters, are a vital component to recovering red wolves both in helping to maintain a viable SAFE population under human care and growing the wild population through releases. We greatly value our partnership with the SAFE program and institutions like the Saint Louis Zoo.”

Regina Mossotti, Vice President of Animal Care at the Saint Louis Zoo, is also the AZA American Red Wolf SAFE Program Leader.

“Hunting, habitat loss and human misconceptions about wolves have all played a role in the plight of the red wolf today,” Mossotti said. “But every new birth offers hope for future reintroduction efforts for this vital national treasure.”

The pups will remain with their parents for at least two years, but then may be sent to other SAFE institutions to start their own packs to further increase the population of the critically endangered species. They could also potentially be selected for release into the wild in a location designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Saint Louis Zoo Sears Lehmann, Jr. Wildlife Reserve

The Saint Louis Zoo Sears Lehmann, Jr. Wildlife Reserve is a 355-acre natural area located 40 miles southwest of St. Louis in Franklin County, MO. In 1993, the property was donated to the Zoo by Peggy Lehmann, of St. Louis, in honor of her late husband, Sears Lehmann, Jr. She envisioned the property as an area for wildlife and as a future location where the Zoo might someday expand its conservation and animal science programs. Since taking over the land, the Zoo primarily preserved it as a natural site for native wildlife. In 2021, the Zoo announced its plans to develop approximately 20 acres of the property to help American red wolf conservation efforts. With the completion of construction of seven habitats at Wildlife Reserve in October of 2022, wolves began arriving from other conservation organizations. Currently, the red wolves at the Wildlife Reserve live in a private, protected natural setting. The campus is not open to visitors, as the Zoo, SAFE and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service want the red wolves to learn natural behaviors and survival skills without much human interaction to prepare them for a potential life in the wild. For more information on the Wildlife Reserve, visit

Saint Louis Zoo

Home to over 16,000 animals, representing nearly 500 species, the Saint Louis Zoo is recognized worldwide for its innovative approaches to animal care and management, wildlife conservation, research and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences. The Saint Louis Zoo and other AZA-accredited institutions collectively dedicate millions of dollars annually to support scientific research, conservation and education programs. For more information, visit