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Effort to prevent 'coywolf' hybrids is working,study finds

Biologists have successfully prevented coyotes from destroying the genetic integrity of red wolves, one of the world’s most endangered canines, a new study concludes. The finding comes as state and federal officials mull whether to phase out the conservation effort, which has involved sterilizing coyotes to prevent the births of wolf-coyote hybrids, as a result of concerns about cost and long-term effectiveness.With roughly 50 animals left in the wild, red wolves (Canis rufus) live on just a single peninsula on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina. In 1973, the population dwindled to 14 wolves; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) then captured the wolves to establish a captive breeding population. In 1987, biologists rereleased red wolves into the wild in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The fragile population now inhabits some 700,000 hectares of public and private land on the Albemarle Peninsula.The main threat to the wolves comes from coyotes, which mate with the wolves to produce fertile “coywolf” hybrids. This genetic dilution is a recent problem; coyotes migrated into the region after the FWS biologists reintroduced the wolf. In 1999, biologists started sterilizing coyotes to prevent hybridization. The sterilizations are “not to control the coyote population size … it’s purely to keep their DNA from being passed to a red wolf offspring,” says ecologist Eric Gese of Utah State University, Logan, a lead author of the new study and a member of the panel overseeing red wolf recovery efforts. Read full story here.