Wild dogs in Texas carry red wolf genes

The Columbus Dispatch - - Morningstarters - By David War­ren

DAL­LAS — Re­searchers say a pack of wild ca­nines found frol­ick­ing on the Texas Gulf Coast car­ries a sub­stan­tial amount of red wolf genes, a sur­pris­ing dis­cov­ery be­cause the an­i­mal was de­clared ex­tinct in the wild nearly 40 years ago.

The find­ing has led wildlife bi­ol­o­gists and oth­ers to de­velop a new un­der­stand­ing that the red wolf DNA is re­mark­ably re­silient after decades of hu­man hunt­ing, loss of habi­tat and other fac­tors had nearly ex­ter­mi­nated the an­i­mal.

“Over­all, it’s in­cred­i­bly rare to re­dis­cover an­i­mals in a re­gion where they were thought to be ex­tinct, and it’s even more ex­cit­ing to show that a piece of an en­dan­gered genome has been pre­served in the wild,” said El­iz­abeth Hep­pen­heimer, a Prince­ton Univer­sity bi­ol­o­gist in­volved in the re­search on the pack found on Galve­ston Is­land. The work of the Prince­ton team was pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Genes.

The ge­netic anal­y­sis found that the Galve­ston ca­nines ap­pear to be a hy­brid of red wolf and coy­ote, but Hep­pen­heimer cau­tions that with­out ad­di­tional test­ing, it’s dif­fi­cult to la­bel the an­i­mal.

Ron Suther­land, a con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tist in North Carolina with the Wild­lands Net­work, said it’s ex­cit­ing to have found “this unique and fas­ci­nat­ing medium-sized wolf.” The sur­vival of the red wolf genes “with­out much help from us for the last 40 years is won­der­ful news,” said Suther­land, who was not in­volved in the Prince­ton study.

The dis­cov­ery co­in­cides with sim­i­lar DNA find­ings in wild ca­nines in south­west­ern Louisiana and bol­sters the hopes of con­ser­va­tion­ists dis­mayed by the dwin­dling num­ber of red wolves in North Carolina that com­prised the only known pack in the wild.

The red wolf, which tops out at about 80 pounds, was once com­mon across a vast re­gion ex­tend­ing from Texas into the South­east and up into the North­east. It was fed­er­ally clas­si­fied as en­dan­gered in 1967 and de­clared ex­tinct in the wild in 1980.

[THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO]

In 2017 at the Mu­seum of Life and Sci­ence in Durham, N.C., the par­ents of a 7-week old red wolf pup keep an eye on their off­spring. Red wolves are con­sid­ered ex­tinct in the wild, but sci­en­tists have found a pack of wild ca­nines on the Texas Gulf Coast that carry the genes of red wolves.

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