Tag Archives: red wolf

Red Wolf Rediscovery: Ancestral Genes Found Alive In Texas

The red wolf (Canis rufus) has been rediscovered along the Texas Gulf Coast or at least its essence has proven to survive long-thought extinction.

A collaborative effort of Princeton, Trent University, University of Georgia and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium researchers among others makes this claim in a just published study preprint (not yet peer reviewed) at biorxiv.org.

Rediscovering species once thought to be extinct or on the edge of extinction is rare. Red wolves have been extinct along the Gulf Coast region since 1980, with their last populations found in coastal Louisiana and Texas. We report the rediscovery of red wolf ghost alleles in a canid population on Galveston Island, Texas.

Biology Online Dictionary defines an allele as “one member of a pair (or any of the series) of genes occupying a specific spot on a chromosome that controls the same trait.”

An example would be eye color or head shape.

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An incredible shot of a gathering of wild canids in Galveston County taken by Ron Wooten one of the study’s authors. Notice the one howling on the right.

A “ghost allele” is essentially a genetic variant that has disappeared from a population through reduction or some other factor and then rediscovered elsewhere.

In this case it was found in two road-killed wild candid specimens from Galveston Island, TX near the last known stronghold of the red wolf.

Among the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act, the red wolf was declared extinct after decades of relentless predator control and habitat destruction led to strained populations and hybridization with coyotes.

Some 14 of hundreds of canids caught by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials were considered to be true representatives of the species and became the genesis of a successful nation-wide captive-breeding program and limited wild restoration effort that exists in North Carolina today.

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The first photo I had published back in 1992 when I had just begun my freshman year in college. These pair of red wolves lived at the Texas Zoo in Victoria.

The study authors note surviving ancestral traits from the shared common ancestor of coyotes and red wolves could have drifted to a high frequency in the captive breeding red wolf population and in a small portion of Gulf Coast coyotes; or wild coyotes in the Gulf Coast region are a reservoir of red wolf ghost alleles that have persisted into the 21st century.

Through interbreeding with coyotes, endangered and extinct red wolf genetic variation has persisted and could represent a reservoir of previously lost red wolf ancestry. This unprecedented discovery opens new avenues for contemporary red wolf conservation and management, where ghost alleles could be re-introduced into the current captive and experimental  populations

Noted red wolf researcher and former USFWS biologist Dr. Ron Nowak said the study supports long-standing morphological evidence and visual observations that animals at least partly red wolf have continued to exist along the Texas coast, in other parts of eastern Texas and in Louisiana from the 1970s to the present day.

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A red-wolf like canid I captured an image of along the Texas coast in 2003. Did this animal contain the “ghost alleles” found in the study?

“This new information should help to stimulate further relevant study that should ascertain the status of red wolf genetic material across larger areas, determine the mechanisms that have enabled survival of such material and develop appropriate management programs,” he said. 

Red wolf recovery has been controversial due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is its protection under the Endangered Species Act which spooks some private landowners.

A few scientists have even questioned whether Canis rufus exists at all by hypothesizing it is a fertile gray wolf/coyote hybrid, not a separate species.

Other interests are concerned about recovery impact on deer populations and livestock and the corporate wildlife media have all but ignored the red wolf’s story.

It has never resonated with the public at large like its larger cousin the gray wolf’s comeback in the Yellowstone region, though the red wolf has long been much more at risk.

But the aforementioned essence of the red wolf has survived despite the obstacles and may even be thriving, not only on Galveston Island but in a broader area.

Thousands of hunters, hikers, fishermen and landowners have reported seeing wolves in the Texas-Louisiana region since 1980. They have often been told they saw a coyote or a feral dog, not a wolf.

This study shows that if it looks like a wolf and howls like a wolf that it might not necessarily be fully wolf or fully coyote as we currently understand them.

What people are seeing in Texas and Louisiana however could be wild canids with genetics that could be the key to this misunderstood specie’s survival.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Listen to a podcast on this discovery at The Wildlife Journalist® by clicking below.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

*Study Authors (Elizabeth Heppenheimer, Kristin E. Brzeski, Ron Wooten, Will Waddell, Linda Y. Rutledge, Michael J. Chamberlain, Daniel R. Stahler, Joseph W. Hinton, Bridgett M. vonHoldt)

Coyote (Coywolf?) Pups Show Playful Side (Video)

Wild canids are special to me. On the North American front I am particularly fond of red wolves, coyotes and their hybrids the “coywolf”.

The red wolf is declared extinct in the wild other than a handful of captive-bred animals that have been released into various remote areas. The reason for extinction designation was hybridization with coyotes-accacerbated by wholesale slaughter under the guise of predator control.

The term “coywolf” is most often used for gray wolf/coyote hybrids but it is equally fitting for the offspring of coyotes and red wolves.

My friend Mark Hines has for the last three years been getting the most amazing videos of a family of animals I believe has some red wolf in their lineage down the road. These are from Orange County, TX in an area literally less than five miles away from where the last “pure” red wolves were captured for the federal breeding program in 1980.

Mark has given us an incredible look into the lives of these animals that are no doubt mostly coyote but look like they have some red wolf in the gene pool as well. These clips show puppies born this spring.

Naturalists like Mark are an important part of keeping the awareness of wildlife at a high  level and allowing us to get an incredible glimpse at some things rarely seen by human eyes.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com. To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page.)

The ultimate red wolf podcast! (audio)

Last week I had  Kim Wheeler, Executive Director of the Red Wolf Coalition, on my radio program “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.

It was without a question the most in-depth, detailed program we have ever done on red wolves in the nearly 19 year history of the program and you can listen to it right here via podcast.

We discuss history of the species, controversies surrounding its introduction, success of the captive breeding program and future of this misunderstood and highly endangered mammal.

If you like wolves tune in. It will open your eyes to the mysterious world of Canis rufus.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Hidden reason for red wolf extinction

Canis rufus, the red wolf, is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet.

With fewer than 50 released into the wild from captive breeding facilities that house around 200 nationwide, they have remained on the brink since their officially declared extinction from the wild in 1980.

While the possibility of remnant, hidden populations exist, their numbers are a tiny in comparison to their former range from the eastern seaboard into Central Texas.

The reason for their extinct designation is they hybridized with coyotes to create a genetic mutt of sorts, the “coywolf”, which still has many representatives in Texas and Louisiana.

A seldom mentioned aspect of the red wolf’s story, however, is targeted eradication.

What caused coyotes to push eastward from their stronghold in the west so quickly was that the vast majority of red wolves had been killed and in large portion through a variety of state-sponsored programs.

This created a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum.

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Page 149 of the document shows a government predator control agent with a “black wolf”. Black was a common color for Canis rufus in many parts of its range.

I recently came across a copy of the 1946-47 Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biennial Report that goes into detail about wolves in the state.

Under the headline “Predator Control” the following information is given.

“The Legislature of 1946 increased hunting license fees to $2.00. Twenty five percent of these funds (the increase) were dedicated to predator control.”

“There has been a great increase in the predators of the State. Undoubtedly a great deal of the increase was due to war conditions which took many men away from farms, lack of ammunition and difficulties due to travel restrictions in certain sections of the State. The increase in our foxes brought on an epidemic of rabies and a tremendous increase in wolves and bobcats brought on a terrific loss to our ground-nesting birds, to our mammals, particularly rabbits and our young deer.”

The text goes on to say they hired an official predator control supervisor and had two trappers working under him.

In all fairness it says their desire was to bring a “proper balance” between predators and prey but there was no doubt large-scale predator control aimed directly at red wolves in the state.

The “black wolf” you see in the photo is a red wolf. Red was the primary colors in the Texas region but the red wolf was once called Canis niger (Niger is “black” in Latin) due to its primarily black color in many parts of the South.

As far this writer knows there have never been any melanistic red wolves in the captive breeding program consisting of 14 animals taken chiefly from eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana, showing at least in the strain of wolves initially captured the black strain was not present.

It is most likely gone forever.

Similar projects were initiated in most if not all states in the red wolf’s range on top of unrestricted harvest by anyone with a gun, leg hold trap or poison.

We have come a long way in wildlife management in the country in many ways  but it is always good to look back so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mark Twain once said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes”.

It is up to us to figure make sure when it comes to wildlife good science trumps politics and conservation reigns supreme even in the hotly contested world of predator management.

Management is one thing, eradication is entirely something else.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Texas’ Red Wolves

Canis rufus, the red wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Declared extinct in the wild in 1980, they faced hybridization with more adaptable coyotes. Now a number of scientists believe the species is actually a fertile hybrid of gray wolf and coyote to begin with but the red wolf at this point is still declared a unique species.

The Texas Zoo is one of the first in the nation to take part in the captive breeding program that has produced offspring that have been stocked at several locations in the Southeast including North Carolina’s Alligator National Wildlife Refuge.

A red wolf I photographed recently at The Texas Zoo in Victoria.
A red wolf I photographed recently at The Texas Zoo in Victoria.

The wolves there are kept in a spacious, naturalistic enclosure where with a good camera with a solid telephoto lens and fast shutter speed you have a good shot at capturing images like the one above.

The first photo I ever had published was a pair of red wolves dating back to 1992 in a now defunct newspaper called The Opportunity Valley News. I actually took the photo the year before while I was a junior in high school.

The first photo I had published back in 1992 when I had just begun my freshman year in college.
The first photo I had published back in 1992 when I had just begun my freshman year in college.

One of the best parts of the wolf exhibit is that it is located close to a coyote exhibit. Coyotes are often mistaken to be wolves and here you can see a clear contrast and also note the similarities.

The vast majority of the animals at the Texas Zoo are Texas natives but there are also tigers and other exotics now included to give some variety for visitors.

If you are ever near Victoria, TX which is situated off of I-59 between Houston and Corpus Christi, stop by and see the red wolves and the other wild creatures that call it home.

It’s got a nice collection of animals and charm the size of the Lone Star State.

For more information to go Texaszoo.org.

Chester Moore, Jr.