News Releases

October 09, 2007

Large Canids in Vermont Have Puzzling Ancestry

Waterbury, VT – A 92-lb. canine animal shot October 1, 2006 in Troy, Vermont has been genetically identified as having a substantial amount of wolf ancestry, according to the Agency of Natural Resources’ Fish & Wildlife Department. A resident of Troy apparently shot the animal thinking it was a coyote.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s forensics laboratory in Ashland, Oregon traced the ancestry of this animal to two separate and geographically distinct populations of wolves. However, interbreeding between these two populations has never been documented in the wild, suggesting it was highly unlikely the animal was the result of natural breeding. The lab concluded that this animal was of captive origin. There are many wolves and wolf-dog hybrids in private possession, and these animals sometimes escape or are released into the wild.

Tissue samples were sent to three additional labs, and the DNA results vary. All agree, however, that the animal had substantial wolf DNA but that it was of mixed ancestry. One lab found that the animal had gray wolf, Eastern wolf and coyote DNA, which is not uncommon in mid-western and western wolves due to a common ancestry going back hundreds of years.

The Fish & Wildlife Department will continue to coordinate with outside experts in genetic forensics to better understand the origin and ancestry of the animal.

Genetic analysis of other wild canids in the Northeast in the last decade reveals that hybridization historically occurred between the western coyote and Eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) from southeastern Ontario and southern Quebec.

A 72-lb. canid was shot in Glover, Vermont in 1997. Genetic tests of its DNA revealed it had mixed ancestry, which included Eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) and possibly coyote or domestic dog.

“The Fish and Wildlife Department will continue to contribute to regional monitoring and research efforts related to wild canid populations in Vermont because we cannot rule out the possibility that wild wolves may move into the Northeastern United States from eastern Canada sometime in the future,” said State Wildlife Biologist Kimberly Royar. “Public cooperation and feedback continue to be vital to the understanding and responsible stewardship of this resource.”

“Hunting coyotes keeps them wild and wary of humans however, we encourage coyote hunters, as we would in all hunting situations, to carefully identify their target when hunting,” advises Royar. The U.S. Endangered Species Act lists the grey wolf as endangered and the penalty for shooting one is severe.

“We have worked hard to accurately identify the ancestry and the origin of both of these large canids shot in Vermont, because the results may be important in how we manage wild canids in the future,” added Royar.

Source: Department of Fish and Wildlife
Last Updated at: October 09, 2007 10:39:56