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A panel of top scientists concluded Thursday that the endangered red wolf of the southeastern U.S. is a species unto itself, giving the beleaguered canine a scientific and political boost as its numbers plummet in the wild.
The government-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences also found that the Mexican gray wolf of New Mexico and Arizona is a subspecies, which advocates say should support conservation efforts.
Wolf - Species - Wolf - Northern - Rockies
Another wolf species, the Western gray wolf, is thriving in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes and could lose federal protections under a proposal released earlier this month.
For red wolves, the affirmation of their genetic uniqueness comes after some North Carolina officials and a small but vocal group of landowners pushed the government to abandon recovery efforts, arguing the animal is a coyote hybrid.
US - Fish - Wildlife - Service - Spokeswoman
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Laury Parramore declined to comment on the agency-funded study beyond a statement saying it was under review.
Red wolves once occupied much of the Eastern U.S. but were driven to near extinction by trapping, hunting and habitat loss. Some of the last red wolves in the wild were removed from portions of Louisiana and Texas in 1980 and used in a captive breeding program. Their descendants were later reintroduced to a wildlife refuge along North Carolina's coast.
Wolves - Decade - Range - North - Carolina
An estimated 35 wild red wolves remained as of late 2018, down from about 120 a decade ago. Their range is currently limited to five North Carolina counties.
Another 200 live in captive breeding programs.
Questions - Scientists - Wolf - Ancestry - Wildlife
Acknowledging longstanding questions among some scientists about red wolf ancestry, federal wildlife officials said last year they would treat it as a distinct species while awaiting Thursday's report.
The nine-member national academy panel found that the red wolf is unique based on its DNA, its behavior and its...
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