'Incredibly Rare': Extinct Wolf DNA Turns Up in Texas

Canines on Galveston Island could be red wolf-coyote hybrid
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2019 11:47 AM CST
'Incredibly Rare': Extinct Wolf DNA Turns Up in Texas
A pack of wild canines is seen on Galveston Island, Texas.   (Ron Wooten via AP)

The red wolf was declared effectively extinct in the American wild almost 40 years ago, but, like the Neanderthal, it lives on in descendants still thriving today. That's the welcome discovery revealed in a study in Genes, which found a substantial amount of red wolf DNA in two road-kill canines from a wild pack on Galveston Island in Texas. A genetic analysis of the "ambiguous-looking" animals suggests a hybrid of red wolf and coyote, says Princeton biologist Elizabeth Heppenheimer. "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," she tells the AP, which reports the discovery "coincides with similar DNA findings in wild canines in southwestern Louisiana." The last wild red wolves were spotted in Texas and Louisiana before extinction in 1980.

In addition to 200 red wolves living in captivity, "fewer than 40" remain in North Carolina—the result of a captive breeding program and experimental release in 1986. But the Galveston Island population has a unique genetic variation not found in any other known canine in North America, per a Princeton release. "This variation may represent the red wolf derived genes that were lost as a result of captive breeding," says Heppenheimer. While she notes more testing is needed, some are already calling for protections, including development restrictions along parts of the Gulf Coast. The challenge, according to Heppenheimer, will be convincing locals to get on board in time. Responding to the discovery, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says no "regulatory changes or implications" are expected in the state at this time. (Wolf hybrids dominate in North America, according to this study.)

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