A Future for Red Wolves May Be Found on Galveston Island


New research finds red wolf ancestry on Galveston Island — providing opportunities for additional conservation action and difficult policy challenges.

Red wolves, once nearly extinct, again teeter on the abyss. The American red wolf is one of United States’ greatest wildlife conservation stories. Red wolves were on the brink of extinction along the American Gulf Coast during the late 1970s when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) made a bold decision to purposely remove all remaining red wolves from the wild.

The USFWS attempted to trap all wild wolves to initiative a captive breeding program and recover the species. After several years of successful captive breeding, red wolves were released back onto the landscape in North Carolina in 1988, well before the famous wolf reintroduction effort in Yellowstone National Park. The reintroduced population in North Carolina grew for 25 years, even while experiencing complex management issues such as red wolves hybridizing with coyotes.

But the wild population is once again dwindling (from a peak of about 150 individuals in the wild in 2005 to a mere 30 or 40), amongst political controversy and pressure from a number of landowners to be able to shoot the wolves on their land. In addition to the wild population, there are approximately 200 red wolves in captivity. The entire red wolf population descends from 14 individual animals, of which only 12 are genetically represented.

During this ongoing debate of how to recover the red wolf, a team of researchers including Michigan Technological University scientist Kristin Brzeski, assistant professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, discovered high amounts of red wolf ancestry in canids living on Galveston Island in southeast Texas.

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