MANTEO, N.C. (WAVY) — There’s some really exciting news to share from eastern North Carolina.

The Red Wolf Recovery Program at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the way to the Outer Banks announced that 6 wild red wolf pups were just born on the week of April 18 — the first pups born in the wild since 2018. They’re believed to be pups of mother 2225 and father 2323, but the program is awaiting genetic testing confirmation.

“Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!” the program wrote on Facebook.

Eastern North Carolina is the only habitat for wild red wolves in the U.S., and currently there are only about 15-17 adults in the area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. The red wolf population reached as high as 120 in 2021, but declining dramatically because of human-caused deaths from gunshots, vehicle strikes, etc.

Back in the 1970s, the species was only in a small coastal area in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, before eventually being declared extinct in the wild in 1980. The FWS started recovery efforts in North Carolina four years later. There’s also a red wolf breeding ground at St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, where pups are born and eventually taken to Alligator.

The FWS is collaring all red wolves with bright orange collars to help the public distinguish them from coyotes, and says all but one known, collared adult have orange collars.

You can read more about the program here.