Wolves have fascinated humans for thousands of years, often featuring in fables, legends, and stories as captivating and at times fearsome creatures. These majestic animals evoke a mix of adoration and fear, leaving an indelible mark on humankind’s collective imagination.

Belonging to the Canidae family, wolves share a lineage with domestic dogs, jackals, and coyotes. Two prominent wolf species are the Grey or Timber Wolf (Canis lupus) and the Red Wolf (Canis rufus). Interestingly, the oldest known wolf specimen is a 57,000-year-old puppy named Zhùr, discovered by a gold miner in Yukon, Canada. While the average lifespan of wolves in the wild ranges between 6 and 8 years, some have been known to live for over a decade. The intrigue surrounding these magnificent creatures begs the question: how old is the oldest wolf in the world?

How Many Species of Wolves Are There?

Wolves belong to the Canidae family, which includes species like jackals and foxes (Vulpes genus). Two main wolf species exist: the grey wolf (Canis Lupus) and the red wolf (Canis Rufus). They are confirmed as separate species through DNA analysis and distinct physical characteristics.

Grey Wolves measure 120-200 cm (4-6.56 feet) in length and weigh 18-79 kg (40-179 pounds). Their fur is typically thick and grey, with some individuals showcasing all-white or all-black variations.

Red Wolves are smaller, measuring 137-168 cm (4.5-5.5 feet) in length, and weighing 23-36 kg (50-80 pounds). These wolves display sleek buff or red fur, often with black markings around the spine. Their back of the head, ears, and legs may have a reddish tinge. Red wolves also have longer legs and taller offset ears compared to grey wolves.

Apart from these two main species, the wolf family also includes other lesser-known species like C. chihliensis and C. etruscus.

Red Wolves Are Not Coyotes

Despite a long-lasting debate regarding their similarity with coyotes, red wolves (Canis rufus) are now recognized as a distinct species within the Canis genus, not merely a hybrid. There was speculation that they could be a hybrid due to evidence of breeding between coyotes and red wolves. However, a turning point arose in April 2019 when advanced DNA analysis and biological studies validated that red wolves possess specific genetic markers shared with grey wolves, which are absent in coyotes. This important finding consistently presents red wolves as a unique species, clearly distinguishing them from their coyote relatives.

How Many Types of Grey Wolves Exist?

Grey wolves, also known as Canis lupus, have multiple subspecies across North America and Eurasia. Determining the exact count is challenging due to their expansive range and overlapping territories that lead to interbreeding.

North American Subspecies:

Eurasian Subspecies:

In Eurasia, 7 to 12 possible subspecies are grouped under the term Canis L. lupus, or Eurasian Wolves.

The Wolf Essentials: Habitat, Environment, and Lifestyle

Unity in the Pack

Wolves are highly adaptable creatures, capable of thriving in a variety of habitats – from forests and grasslands to snowy terrains and even deserts. Their ability to adapt to different environments allows them to be found across North America and Eurasia. Grey wolves, in particular, have a wide distribution, while red wolves are primarily found in the south-central United States.

Competing with other carnivores like coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, and bears, wolves have developed survival strategies to ensure their sustenance. They can survive without food for weeks and consume large quantities when prey is available, storing excess for their young during leaner times. Red wolves tend to hunt smaller mammals and insects, consuming up to 5 pounds daily, while grey wolves seek out larger prey like elk and deer, consuming up to 22.5 pounds.

Wolves are known for their strong social bonds and cooperative behaviors in packs. These packs, which are essentially family units, consist of a mated pair and their offspring. All pack members participate in caring for the pups, though the mated pair might be the only ones actively producing offspring. Though some wolves may live independently, most eventually join an existing pack. Young wolves transition into hunters at around six months of age and reach full maturity at two years.

The size of a wolf pack varies based on the species. Red wolves form smaller packs with 2–8 members, while grey wolf packs can consist of 20–30 members. Notably, the Druid Pack in Yellowstone National Park once boasted up to 30 members, highlighting the strength and unity of the wolf population.

In Memoriam: Madadh, The Oldest Recorded Wolf in The World

Madadh, a 19-year-old female wolf, holds the record for being the oldest known wolf in the world. Affectionately called Maddie, she, along with her brother Kgosi, were rescued from a wildlife park when they were just ten days old by Tony Haighway. Tony raised them at Wolfwatch UK, one of the most picturesque natural wolf sanctuaries in the United Kingdom.

Throughout their lives, Madadh and Kgosi roamed the vast wilderness of Wolfwatch UK, relishing the acres of nature and fresh mountain water it offered. They were also remarkably friendly and social, often howling to greet their fellow wolves and human caretakers, while forming a unique bond with Tony Haighway.

In May 2017, Kgosi sadly passed away at the age of 18. A few months later, in October 2017, Madadh, the world’s oldest recorded wolf, passed away peacefully in the arms of her lifelong friend, Tony.

Tony Haighway composed a heartfelt tribute to Madadh, expressing:

  • The deep joy and privilege of sharing experiences with Madadh and Kgosi
  • Madadh’s exceptional character, being the most sociable wolf he had ever encountered
  • Her love for meeting new people and the excitement she shared with them

He also acknowledged the outpouring of messages and expressions of sadness from those who had been touched by Madadh’s life. Thanks to the unwavering support of many, Wolfwatch UK continues its mission to provide a nurturing sanctuary for wolves. Madadh’s legacy will remain a remarkable testament to the lifelong bond between humans and the animal kingdom.

The Oldest Recorded Wild Wolf in Washington: 32M

As a 12-year-old wolf, 32M held the title of being the oldest known wild wolf in Washington and potentially the world. Often considered a founding father of 21st-century Washington wolves, 32M fathered at least five litters with three different mates.

Born in the Methow Valley in north-central Washington in the late 2000s, 32M is thought to be one of the first pups of Washington’s Lookout pack. This pack marked the return of wolves to the state after eight long decades.

32M ventured nearly 80 miles from his birthplace to the Teanaway River Valley alongside his first mate. There, they established their territory, leading to the creation of the Teanaway Pack.

Sadly, in the summer of 2020, 32M’s remarkable journey came to an end.

Kennai: The Oldest Wolf Ever at The NY Zoo

Kennai, a remarkable wolf, once held the title of the oldest wolf living at the New York Zoo in Waterton. He arrived at the zoo along with his mate, Kaja, on December 8, 2008. Together, they produced an impressive 30 wolf pups, one of which, Luna, still calls the NY Zoo home.

At the venerable age of 14 years old, Kennai was second in the world’s oldest living wolves, only behind Madadh. Unfortunately, Kennai passed away in November 2021 due to kidney failure caused by old age. He spent his final moments under the watchful eyes of his caretakers and near his lifelong mate, Kaja.

Larry Sorel, the New York Zoo’s Executive Director, expressed heartfelt emotions after Kennai’s passing. He reminisced about visitors experiencing Kennai, Kaja, and Luna’s “howling ballads” and praised the excellent efforts of the zookeepers. Kennai’s life, according to Sorel, represented the zoo’s dedication to conservation and the tireless work of its caretakers. His presence will be fondly remembered and deeply missed.

Conservation: Are Wolves Endangered?

Wolves used to thrive in regions above the equator, with significant populations in both North America and Eurasia. Unfortunately, their numbers dwindled as farmers and cattle ranchers hunted them to protect livestock and occupied their territories. This issue was most pronounced in North America, where grey wolf populations nearly vanished. In 1974, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the grey wolf to the Endangered Species List.

Fast forward to October 2020, grey wolf populations have recovered, numbering in the thousands, and they were removed from the Endangered Species List. Despite this, wolves only exist in 10% of their original range, prompting conservationists to express concern for their long-term survival1.

The red wolf is the rarest wolf species globally, classified as threatened with extinction by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 19672. Presently, only 15-17 red wolves live in the wild and 241 reside in breeding facilities. They continue to face threats due to hunting and climate change, making it crucial to protect and conserve their populations.

In conclusion, while wolf populations have shown improvement, the red wolf remains endangered, and the grey wolf’s habitat restriction indicates the need for continued conservation efforts. The wellbeing of these majestic animals depends on humans taking action to protect them and their environment.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favourable_conservation_status_of_wolves_in_Europe

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repopulation_of_wolves_in_California

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