On the beaches of Texas, along the Gulf Coast, lives a pack of wild dogs that have made the area their home. However, these aren’t just any dogs – they have some very special ancestors.
Scientists began researching the dogs and made quite the startling discovery – they carry a substantial amount of red wolf genes. This species was declared extinct in the wild around 40 years ago.
This incredible discovery has changed the understanding wildlife biologists had about the red wolf. They now know that red wolf DNA seems to be incredibly resilient despite their loss of habitat, hunting, and other factors that led to the declaration of them being extinct.
“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 who is involved with the study.
The research and work that the Princeton team has done on these wild dogs have been published in the scientific journals Genes.
So, what exactly are these wild dogs? Further analysis of their genes found that these wild dogs are a hybrid of red wolf and coyote. However, Heppenheimer says that they can’t truly label the animal until further testing is done.
Ron Sutherland, who is a conservation scientist, is ecstatic about these new findings about “this unique and fascinating medium-sized wolf.” He says that given the fact, that with no help from humans in the past 40 years, is absolutely wonderful news.
This recent discovery in the pack of wild dogs in Texas is similar to DNA findings of wild dogs in Louisiana.
The discovery also boosts scientists confidence in the possibility that the red wolf population could be revived, despite the dwindling number of red wolves in North Carolina that were the only known pack in the wild.
So, what makes the red wolf so special?
The red wolf is a modestly sized canine and tops out around 80 pounds. It was once a common species to see in a huge region of Texas – from the south to the southeast and up into the northeast.
The wolf species was declared endangered in 1967 and extinct in the wild in the 1980s. According to ABC, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1970s captured a remnant population in Texas and Louisiana that eventually led to a successful captive breeding program. Those canines in 1986 became part of the experimental wild population in North Carolina. That group has been declining since peaking at an estimated 120 to 130 wolves in 2006. A federal report in April said only about 40 remained.”
In the captive breeding programs, there are approximately 200 red wolves in zoos and wildlife facilities.
The heated debate over red wolf protection laws could now drastically change because of the new findings in Galveston, Texas.
“From a practical conservation biology standpoint, these animals have special DNA and they deserve to be protected,” Sutherland said.
Due to the government shutdown, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency was unavailable for comment. However, the state department of Texas Parks and Wildlife said that they found the findings “interesting” but they don’t anticipate any changes in regulation at this time.
The executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition in North Carolina stresses that further research on these wild dogs is needed.
“We can get excited, but in my mind, we really need to let science do its due diligence to determine what this animal is,” she said.
She states this because she knows that red wolves can cause a bit of controversy for those that own livestock or have issues with predatory animals. More research can help determine the dogs’ behavior and potential threat to those people.
Only time will tell what will come of these dogs and species of red wolf. In the meantime, learn more about the discovery in the video below.
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Source: ABC 13