DNA of wolf declared extinct in wild lives on in Texas pack In this June 13, 2017, file photo, the parents of this 7-week old red wolf pup keep an eye on their offspring at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
DNA of wolf declared extinct in wild lives on in Texas pack
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A pack of wild canines found frolicking near the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast carries a substantial amount of red wolf genes. That's according to researchers. It is a surprising discovery. That's 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. They say that the red wolf DNA is remarkably resilient. This comes after decades of human hunting and loss of habitat. It comes after 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." That's according to Elizabeth Heppenheimer. She is a Princeton University biologist. She is involved in the research on the pack found on Galveston Island in Texas. 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 is a North Carolina-based conservation scientist. He is with the Wildlands Network. He 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." That's according to Sutherland. He was not involved in the Princeton study.

The discovery coincides with similar DNA findings in wild canines. These include others in southwestern Louisiana. They bolster the hopes of conservationists dismayed by the dwindling number of red wolves in North Carolina. They comprised the only known pack in the wild.

The red wolf tops out at about 80 pounds. It was once common. It could be found across a vast region extending from Texas to the south. It went into the Southeast and up into the Northeast. It was federally classified as endangered in 1967. It was 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. Eventually, it 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. It peaked at an estimated 120 to 130 wolves in 2006. A federal report in April said only about 40 remained.

An additional 200 red wolves live in zoos and wildlife facilities. They are part of captive breeding programs.

A federal judge in November sided with environmental groups, arguing in a lawsuit. They claimed that efforts by federal authorities to shrink the territory of the wild group in North Carolina were a violation of law. 

The judge ruled U.S. Fish and Wildlife also violated the Endangered Species Act. They did so by authorizing private landowners to kill the canine predators even if they weren't threatening humans Or threatening livestock or pets.

The debate over red wolf protections could take on new dimensions with the discovery on Galveston.

Sutherland said the Galveston canines have effectively quashed a decades-old impression. It led some to believe that red wolves were a feckless predator overwhelmed by the numerical superiority of coyotes. He adds that the Galveston group has DNA that can't be found in the animal's captive population.

"From a practical conservation biology standpoint, these animals have special DNA. They deserve to be protected," he said. He went on to explain that conservation easements that restrict development along parts of the Gulf Coast are an essential first step.

A spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife said the agency was unable to comment during the partial government shutdown. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said in a statement that the Galveston discovery is "interesting." But "we do not anticipate any regulatory changes or implications in Texas at this time."

Kim Wheeler is executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, based in North Carolina. She cautioned that further study of the Galveston pack 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, noting that red wolves can evoke strong feelings in people with livestock or who have other concerns with their predatory nature.

Conservationists, meanwhile, say policymakers need to have a greater appreciation for hybrid animals. When the Endangered Species Act was implemented in the 1970s, conventional wisdom was that hybridization between species was rare and to be avoided. But experts say the thinking on that has changed.

"Now we know hybridization is relatively common in natural systems and does not always have negative consequences. But the policy hasn't quite caught up with this notion," Heppenheimer said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do you think it's important to study the DNA of animals like the red wolf?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (13)
  • Audrey-E2
    4/01/2019 - 10:26 a.m.

    I am going to tell you about DNA of wolf extinct in wild lives on in taxes pack. A pack of wild canines found frolicking near the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast carries a substantial amount of red wolf genes. That's according to researchers. It is a surprising discovery. That's 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.

  • Tanner-E2
    4/02/2019 - 10:17 a.m.

    DNA of wolf declared extinct in wild lives on in Texas pack.A pack of wild wolves were found near the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast carrying a substantial amount of red wolf genes. That's according to researchers. It was a surprising discovery. That's because the animal was declared extinct in the wild nearly 40 years ago. I think this is so cool that there might be some red wolves still alive in the wild.

  • ReedA-dec
    4/03/2019 - 09:45 a.m.

    This was really cool and interesting because the animal was said to be extinct but was really it was alive just never found.

  • Annabel-E2
    4/03/2019 - 11:02 a.m.

    I thought this was really amazing! Red wolves were thought to have been extinct for over 40 years! This makes me wonder that since there was still Red Wolf DNA in Texas, where were thought to be extinct, maybe there are still other thought to be extinct species, still alive in the wild. This was a very interesting article and I hope that scientists can bring back other animals including these wolves back from extinction!

  • AsiaG-dec
    4/08/2019 - 12:30 p.m.

    I think it is important to study animals, because their DNA can tell you if they are harmful or not harmful.
    Also you would definitely have to study red wolves because they live in the wild and could also be very dangerous.

  • BenC-E2
    4/10/2019 - 10:37 a.m.

    WOW! I think it is very interesting that a species that was thought to be extinct is still alive. I think that it is critical to study life and find its weird things.

  • laneyA-dec
    5/20/2019 - 05:13 p.m.

    It’s important that we study the DNA of animals. It’s important because we can find out if an animal is extinct or not and that we could try to help save that type of animal, also to see what it is made up of.

  • EvelynP-
    5/22/2019 - 02:20 p.m.

    because Another 200 red wolves live in zoos and wildlife facilities. They are part of captive breeding programs. It reached a maximum of 120 to 130 wolves in 2006. A federal report in April said there were only about 40 left. Genetic analysis found that the Galveston canines appear to be a hybrid of red wolf and coyote. But Heppenheimer warns that without further testing, it is difficult to label the animal. "In general, it is incredibly rare to rediscover animals in a region where they were believed to be extinct, and it is even more exciting to show that a part of an endangered genome is has preserved in nature. "The finding has led wildlife biologists and others to develop a new understanding. They say that the DNA of the red wolf is remarkably resistant. This comes after decades of human hunting and habitat loss. It occurs after other factors have led the animal to near annihilation.And it is interesting to know about DNA because it is too strong and wolves can provoke strong feelings in people with cattle or that they have other worries about their predatory nature

  • TorresA-dec
    5/24/2019 - 12:54 p.m.

    i like wolfs

  • ryang-rit
    9/03/2019 - 04:32 p.m.

    So you know if the red wolf is endangered or not. The DNA also tells where they came from and where the red wolf lives. The DNA also tells what would happen to them if they were endangered.

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