/ Modified apr 1, 2019 10:53 a.m.

Study Confirms Mexican Wolf Status, Changes Red Wolf Classification

The study recommends maintaining the wolf's endangered subspecies status, which it may be stripped of.

Mexican wolf hero 2 Mexican wolf.
Arizona governor's office

While a proposal made early this month may soon strip the gray wolf of its endangered species protections, a government-funded study supports maintaining the Mexican wolf's status as an endangered subspecies.

The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) illustrates the growing role genomic DNA analysis plays in determining endangered species status.

Earlier studies established the canine as a subspecies of gray wolf (Canis lupus) and proved that it had not interbred with domestic dogs, weakening the case of opponents of wolf restoration.

The new report, conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lent further support to those findings.

red wolf VIEW LARGER A red wolf in captivity in Tacoma, Washington.
B. Bartel/USFWS

It also established the endangered red wolf (Canis rufus), historically found throughout the eastern United States, as a species distinct from the gray wolf, but evidence from historic wolf specimens could still alter that status.

Like the Mexican wolf, the red wolf was nearly wiped out in the 20th century and partly reestablished via special breeding programs.

Both wolves have also been subject of a vocal opposition that raises genetic questions as a basis for removing protections.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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