DNA of an extinct species found in pack of wild canines
Researchers say a pack of wild canines found frolicking near the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast carries a substantial amount of red wolf genes, a surprising discovery 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 that the red wolf DNA is remarkably resilient after decades of human hunting, loss of habitat and other factors had led the animal to near decimation.
We spoke to Tish Gailmard, Director of Wildlife and Reflection Riding and Arboretum about what this could mean for the resurgence of the Red Wolf population.
"For the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, it is super exciting," she exclaimed. "These are genes that we don't currently have in our population. We're working with a very small gene pool of fourteen founders. So to introduce new genes into our captive breeding and our one wild release site could be absolutely fantastic."
This is something the group at Chattanooga's Reflection Riding never dreamt would be possible. There is much work to be done with analysis, but the group here remains cautiously optimistic.
"We'll be learning and listening and what DNA is discovered and what we can do with this hopefully good genetic red wolves."
The genetic analysis found that the Galveston canines appear to be a hybrid of red wolf and coyote.
The red wolf, which tops out at about 80 pounds, was once common across a vast region extending from Texas to the south, into the Southeast and up into the Northeast. It was federally classified as endangered in 1967 and 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 that eventually led to a successful captive breeding program, like Reflection Riding and Arboretum in Chattanooga. 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.
You can visit the red wolves at Reflection Riding and Arboretum six days a week at the base of Lookout Mountain (closed Mondays).