The stresses that animals experience as a result of modification of their ecological circumstances induce physiological changes that leave a signature in profiles of gene expression. We illustrate this concept in a comparison of free range and confined North American red wolves (Canis rufus). Transcription profiling of peripheral blood samples from 13 red wolf individuals in the Alligator River region of North Carolina revealed a strong signal of differentiation. Four hundred eighty-two out of 2980 transcripts detected on Illumina HumanRef8 oligonucleotide bead arrays were found to differentiate free range and confined wolves at a false discovery rate of 12.8% and P < 0.05. Over-representation of genes in focal adhesion, insulin signalling, proteasomal, and tryptophan metabolism pathways suggests the activation of pro-inflammatory and stress responses in confined animals. Consequently, characterization of differential transcript abundance in an accessible tissue such as peripheral blood identifies biomarkers that could be useful in animal management practices and for evaluating the impact of habitat changes on population health, particularly as attention turns to the impact of climate change on physiology and in turn species distributions.