The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, and while around 40 red wolves were captured, bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild in North Carolina in 1990, there have been mysterious reports. unconfirmed sightings of red wolves scattered along the Texas Gulf Coast for decades. These sightings were generally dismissed – scientists were sure the coyotes were mistaken for the elusive wolf. But now there is some evidence that red wolves may actually have a genetic presence along the Texas coast.
It all started with a few traffic accidents. Biologist and photographer Ron Wooten had photographed coyotes on Galveston Island in 2013 when he realized that some of the dogs did not look like “normal coyotes,” Wooten said. KRIV. He found two of the dead “coyotes” along the road, took samples, and hid them in his freezer, hoping to have them genetically tested. Several agencies turned him down, so he contacted Bridgett vonHoldt, a biologist at Princeton University. “I get this kind of request on a regular basis, but something in Wooten’s email came out,” vonHoldt said later, according to a December article. Press release from Princeton. “His enthusiasm and dedication struck me, along with some very intriguing photographs of the dogs. They looked particularly interesting and I thought it was worth taking a second look.
The second sample sent by Wooten was somehow lost, and according to the press release, Wooten sent in the scalpel he used to take the sample as a makeshift replacement. “No one had ever sent us a scalpel before, so it was quite a memorable experience trying to extract this DNA,” said Elizabeth Heppenheimer, a graduate student of vonHoldt’s lab. Extract from the press release:
After the researchers extracted and processed the DNA, they compared the samples to each of the legally recognized wildlife species in the genus. Canis that occur in North America. They used samples from 29 coyotes from Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas; 10 gray wolves from Yellowstone National Park; 10 Eastern Wolves (C. lycaon) Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario; and 11 red wolves from the captive red wolf breeding program. When they did their genetic analyzes, they found that the animals on Galveston Island looked more like captive red wolves than the typical Southeast coyotes.
The discovery shocked Heppenheimer. “I think we were all really surprised that there was any indication of red wolf genes in either of these samples,” she said, according to the press release. “We get weird samples quite regularly, and most of the time they’re coyotes. … At first I was extremely skeptical that the analysis would lead to anything interesting, which ended up being very humiliating. I consider myself to be an expert on these animals, but in reality most of the time I just look at my computer. It was the people on the ground, who regularly monitor these animals, who made the major discovery.
Wolves and coyotes generally do not breed with each other, unless they are both in populations so low that they must choose between breeding or not breeding at all. Due to the genetic mix, Galveston canids that contain red wolf DNA are “in appearance ambiguous,” Heppenheimer said. But it is a welcome find for the community of biologists. “It’s incredibly rare to rediscover animals in an area 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 Heppenheimer. Scientists recently published a item about their discovery in the newspaper Genoa.
The timing of discovery is critical, as the red wolves that have been reintroduced to the wild in North Carolina are disappearing. Like the Associated Press reports, a US Fish and Wildlife Service study in April found that North Carolina’s wolf population had fallen to forty, from a peak of around 120 a decade ago. “The population cannot recover from its losses and overcome mortality, resulting in a constant decline in the population,” the study said, adding that the wild wolf population could disappear within a decade.
According to the AP, federal statistics show that humans are primarily responsible for the deaths of wolves. More than 80 wolves died from gunshot wounds over a 25-year period ending in 2013, while around 70 wolves were killed by cars. In comparison, the main natural cause of wolf mortality was health problems, which accounted for nearly 60 deaths. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been criticized by biologists for its management of red wolves, and the agency has been sued by a group of conservationists for its recent abandonment of what had been a successful management strategy. In November, a federal judge ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act by neglecting its duty to protect the animal in North Carolina. The judge noted in his ruling that the sharp decline in the wolf population coincided with arbitrary USFWS policy changes that ended the protection of newborns and the introduction of new wolves into the wild, and with a policy change that allowed landowners to shoot wolves that roamed their property.
The discovery of the red wolf’s DNA at Galveston gives scientists hope the animal can survive in the region, which could make it a potential arena for future red wolf reintroduction efforts, the scientists wrote in Genoa. The discovery also means that there is hope that the red wolf can live in genetic form, even if the pure animal ceases to exist in the wild. “Through crossbreeding with coyotes, this endangered genetic variation persisted and may represent a reservoir of previously lost red wolf ancestry,” the scientists wrote in Genoa. “This unprecedented discovery opens new avenues for innovative conservation efforts, including the reintroduction of phantom red wolf alleles into current captive and experimental populations.”