Tag Archives: red wolves

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Georgia and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium researchers among others makes this claim in a just published study preprint (not yet peer reviewed) at biorxiv.org.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)

A Mexican wolf in TX? (Photo)

Mexican Wolf In Texas

I’ll never forget staring into the eyes of a big male Mexican gray wolf.

Its piercing eyes reflected a wild lineage that roamed the Southwest until the white man moved in with guns, traps and poison.

This was early in my career and the animal resided at a captive breeding facility where remnants of the highly endangered subspecies were being bred for release into the wild.

I shot tons of photos but they were lost in Hurricane flood damage-along with many others.

Since that time there have been numerous releases in New Mexico and even pups born in the wild there.

So, when Jaclyn Booth sent me this photo I took notice because the animal looked very much like the wolves I had seen at the facility so many years ago.

The photo came through our “The Wildlife Journalist” Facebook and had no information on where it came from.

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Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

My thought was “Wow, thats a gray wolf, probably a Mexican gray wolf.”

I messaged her to find out what state the photo came from and when she said it came from her ranch in Hall County, TX I was in shock.

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The photo below is a coyote from the same ranch and in fact at different angles of the same log. Compare this coyote and the canid in the above photo.

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Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

Now compare with this one of a Mexican gray wolf taken at the Alameda Park Zoo below. Notice the extreme likeness.

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Public Domain Photo
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Photo courtesy Jaclyn Booth

Wiped Out On Purpose

The Mexican gray wolf is indigenous to this part of the world but like all other representative of Canis lupus was wiped out due to government predator control and unregulated killing on ranches.

Is there a remnant pocket of these hailing from the captive breeding program in New Mexico? Or maybe a rogue wanderer?

It is possible but unlikely.

After all a gray wolf radio collared in Michigan was killed by a bowhunter in Missouri in 2001. That’s a much longer journey that New Mexico to Hall County, TX.

Is there a remnant pocket of Mexican gray wolves in North Texas and perhaps even in the Trans Pecos?

In 2013 I had a professional trapper who has trapped and killed thousands of coyotes tell me of seeing a Mexican gray wolf near Alpine, TX the year previous. He was adamant at what he saw.

Is there a possibility of having Mexican gray wolf-coyote hybrids (that maybe lean heavily on wolf appearance) in the region?

Absolutely. It has been proven that coyotes and gray wolves hybridize by numerous researchers.

I will be writing a lot about wild canids of the United States this year and will be posting photos, videos and research.

Are there Mexican wolves in Texas?

The jury is still out but on a ranch in Hall County there is definitely an animal that looks a whole lot like one.

More to come…

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Chester Moore, Jr.