The discovery of hybrids in Texas and Louisiana also suggests that scientists and officials may want to “realign” their efforts to protect red wolves in these areas, said Lisette Waits, conservation geneticist at the University of Idaho and co-author of the paper of 2018 for the Louisiana hybrids.
In addition to studying hybrids, it might make sense to reintroduce captive-bred red wolves to regions where animals with red wolf genes still roam the landscape. “It could completely change the direction of the red wolf recovery program,” said Dr. Waits.
Dr. Brzeski, Dr. vonHoldt and her team are now investigating the hybrids in both Texas and Louisiana as part of the new Dog project on the Gulf Coast.
They use GPS collars and wildlife cameras to learn about the canids’ movements and behavior, collect fecal samples to analyze their diet, use genetic analysis to track the relatives of the pack, and collect tissue samples from animals with the most red wolves. One goal, said Dr. vonHoldt, said he was creating a “biobank set of samples that could be used to improve the genetic health of the captive red wolf population.”
They also hope to learn more about how these red wolf alleles survived, especially in animals that live close to people in a popular tourist destination. The island location, which keeps the canids relatively isolated, is likely part of the explanation, but so is the “lack of tracking,” said Dr. Brzeski and noted that the animals were not generally hunted.
In fact, Mr. Wooten is not the only local resident who is interested in the animals. The research team works closely with Josh Henderson, Animal Services Manager at the Galveston Police Department, and the canids have great community support.
Steve Parker, a lawyer who grew up in the area, recalls hearing childhood stories about his relatives catching red wolves. The Galveston Canids helped him bond with the older generations, many of whom have passed away. “I want to see something and maybe touch something that is special to you,” he said.