Texas wild ca­nines linked to red wolves

The Commercial Appeal - - Viewpoint - David War­ren AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

DAL­LAS – Re­searchers say a pack of wild ca­nines found frol­ick­ing near the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast carry 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 led the an­i­mal to near dec­i­ma­tion.

“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 in Texas.

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 North Carolin­abased con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tist 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.

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 was once com­mon across a vast re­gion ex­tend­ing from Texas to the south, 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice in the 1970s cap­tured a rem­nant pop­u­la­tion in Texas and Louisiana that led to a suc­cess­ful cap­tive breed­ing pro­gram. Those ca­nines in 1986 be­came part of the ex­per­i­men­tal wild pop­u­la­tion in North Carolina. A fed­eral re­port in April said only about 40 re­mained.


Red wolves watch off­spring at the Mu­seum of Life and Sci­ence in Durham, N.C. Red wolves were thought to have be­come ex­tinct in the wild 40 years ago.

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