Eleven wolf/coy­ote hy­brids con­firmed in New­found­land since 2013

‘It’s a dog’s break­fast,’ sci­en­tist says

The Compass - - Sports - TC ME­DIA The Tele­gram

Wolves and coy­otes have been mat­ing on the is­land of New­found­land, DNA test­ing keeps show­ing, and the prov­ince’s direc­tor of wildlife is mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion with great in­ter­est.

The one that was most re­cently in the news — a hy­brid trapped in the fall near Lewis Lake by Bot­wood res­i­dent Kevin Strow­bridge — was one of 11 that have been con­firmed here since 2013, John Blake told TC Me­dia.

The 11 were har­vested over a large por­tion of the is­land, from the Baie Verte Penin­sula to the Bon­av­ista Penin­sula, and a bit in­land. Only one — which was caught at Gaff Top­sails in 2016 — had crossed over the high­way.

“Th­ese 11 are cer­tainly point­ing to hy­bridiza­tion with grey wolves, which we know we’ve had at least four here on the is­land since 2008,” said Blake. “It’s just adding to the ge­netic mix that’s al­ready very hy­brid. The east­ern Coy­ote came here in the 1980s. That al­ready had Al­go­nquin wolf as part of its ge­netic makeup, but very, very small per­cent­ages of it would have been wolf.

“What th­ese 11 are show­ing us is that yes, there has been in­tro­gres­sion of the more pure grey wolf — the Labrador grey wolf — into our East­ern coy­ote ge­netic mix here on the is­land.”

A dog’s break­fast

He said he has seen some of the hy­brids up close and oth­ers in pic­tures, and while they all fall into the 60-pound range, they don’t all look the same.

“As with hy­bridiza­tion, it doesn’t come out as one fea­ture. So you can have one an­i­mal that will take on more of a fa­cial ap­pear­ance of a wolf than a coy­ote, and an­other an­i­mal could take on a dif­fer­ent mor­phol­ogy char­ac­ter­is­tic. Maybe it’ll have larger paws than an East­ern coy­ote would, but smaller than a wolf.”

He said other fea­tures, such as coloura­tion, can come out in dif­fer­ent ways.

“The thing to re­mem­ber, too, is there’s ac­tu­ally do­mes­tic dog in the ge­netic makeup of the an­i­mals that we’re talk­ing about, so at some point — whether it was through the east­ern coy­otes that em­i­grated to New­found­land, or more re­cently in breed­ing with dogs — there is do­mes­tic dog ge­netic ma­te­rial in some of th­ese an­i­mals. It’s a re­ally dog’s break­fast — par­don the pun. A ge­netic soup.”

While this may be news in New­found­land, it’s by no means ab­nor­mal. Blake said the same sce­nario is play­ing out in Que­bec and On­tario, with hy­bridiza­tion of sev­eral species oc­cur­ring.

“As cli­mate changes, as habi­tat changes, as we ma­nip­u­late and change land­scapes, th­ese things are go­ing to hap­pen. Species that were once sep­a­rated — maybe ge­o­graph­i­cally, maybe from a re­pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity perspective — if they be­come a lit­tle bit more aligned through what­ever rea­son, whether it’s cli­mate change or habi­tat change or what have you, well, there’s a chance at hy­bridiza­tion that oc­curs, and that’s cer­tainly what we saw with East­ern coy­otes and wolves in North Amer­ica,” he said. “This is not unique to New­found­land, by no means. It’s new, and there­fore in­ter­est­ing, and how it plays out is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing and it may in fact have an im­pact on how we man­age wildlife in the fu­ture.”

Reap­pear­ance of wolves

DNA test­ing has con­firmed that at least four grey wolves have been caught on the is­land since 2008, but Blake said he doesn’t think it’s fair at this point to say there’s an es­tab­lished pop­u­la­tion of them in New­found­land; it’s just as likely the hy­brids were the re­sult of in­ci­den­tal im­mi­gra­tions from Labrador over the years. The de­part­ment strongly sus­pects the wolves would have mi­grated via marine ice, the way po­lar bears some­times do.

“Wolves don’t gen­er­ally do that. They’re very well known in coastal Labrador ar­eas, but usu­ally within sight of land. But any kind of oc­cur­rence could have caused that to change — cer­tainly the de­ple­tion of their pri­mary food sup­ply in Labrador, ie. Cari­bou, may have caused them to ven­ture fur­ther than they usu­ally would,” Blake said.

Es­tab­lished pop­u­la­tion or no, the fact that wolves are show­ing up in New­found­land is not in­signif­i­cant. Wolves have gone un­re­ported on the is­land since the New­found­land wolf — also known as the ca­nis lu­pus beothu­cus — was ex­tir­pated in the 1930s.

“1934, I think, is when the last recorded known an­i­mal that was shot. So we haven’t had wolves on the is­land since then — not that we know of — un­til 2008. I em­pha­size not that we know of be­cause there could have been in­stances of im­mi­gra­tion from Labrador dur­ing that pe­riod and we wouldn’t have known about it,” said Blake.

Coy­otes set­tled in

Coy­otes, al­though not tech­ni­cally na­tive to New­found­land, found their way to the west coast in the mid-1980s, spread­ing east across the is­land un­til they were es­tab­lished all the way to the east­ern Avalon Penin­sula. Be­cause they be­came es­tab­lished so nat­u­rally, they are con­sid­ered a na­tive species.

Sight­ings of the ca­nines are re­ported fairly reg­u­larly, but Blake said there’s no in­di­ca­tion the pop­u­la­tion is ris­ing; pub­lic aware­ness could sim­ply be in­creas­ing.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult thing to quan­tify. All I can say is that it seems like our East­ern coy­ote har­vest — that’s how we mea­sure trends — is fairly sta­ble, about 1,000, 1,100 an­i­mals a year. And that re­ally hasn’t changed,” he said. “The re­al­ity of this is that New­found­land and Labrador is a very ru­ral prov­ince, and we do live in the heart of a lot of wildlife habi­tat —whether that’s for moose or black bears in cen­tral or west­ern New­found­land, or East­ern coy­otes. So it’s not un­com­mon to have wildlife in­ter­act with hu­mans n that kind of a level, on that kind of a scale.”

Track­ing hy­brids

The De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Wildlife is ask­ing hun­ters and trap­pers who come across large coy­otes — those weigh­ing more than the av­er­age 16 or 17 kilo­grams — to get in touch so test­ing can be done on the car­cass.

“It is our de­sire to con­tinue to mon­i­tor the ex­is­tence of any hy­brids and/or any wolf — pure wolf — that might be present in or­der to get an idea of the scale and range ex­pan­sion, if any, of th­ese an­i­mals,” said Blake.

In the mean­time, he’s in­ter­ested to see what eco­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions the hy­brids could bring to the is­land.

“This is a new preda­tor — if, in fact, it be­comes es­tab­lished — and there’s a fairly log­i­cal as­sump­tion that could be made that hy­brids will be larger than the East­ern coy­ote, but smaller than the wolf. How that mor­phol­ogy, how their be­hav­iour, how their diet is all go­ing to im­pact on our ecol­ogy is right now un­known.

“This is a new preda­tor — if, in fact, it be­comes es­tab­lished — and there’s a fairly log­i­cal as­sump­tion that could be made that hy­brids will be larger than the East­ern coy­ote, but smaller than the wolf.

— John Blake

©JOHN PISAPIO, NL WILDLIFE DI­VI­SION

A Labrador wolf (grey wolf) is larger than an East­ern Coy­ote. There have been four con­firmed grey wolves caught on the is­land of New­found­land since 2008.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Kevin Strow­bridge snared this coy­ote/wolf hy­brid near Lewis Lake in Novem­ber. It is one of 11 such hy­brids that have been con­firmed on the is­land since 2013.

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