Friday, August 21, 2015

First Wolf Pack Sighted in Northern California in Decades

A still image from a video released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife showing five gray wolf pups and two adults in northern California.

In the state of California, the gray wolf population became extinct in 1924. But now, decades later, wildlife officials are celebrating the sighting of the state's first wolf pack in the northern part of the state. State and federal officials announced Thursday that a distant camera captured images of a pack earlier this month comprised of two adult wolves and five pups in southeastern Siskiyou County. Named the "Shasta Pack" after Mount Shasta, the pack was discovered four years after the arrival of the wolf OR-7 first wandered into northern California. According to Karen Kovacs of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it was an astonishing achievement for wolves to establish in northern California only 21 years after they were reintroduced in the northern Rocky Mountains. She further added that where these wolves came from will be determined through DNA testing on scat at a lab in the state of Idaho. However, it is possible that they are a continuance of rising numbers of wolves migrating from the northeastern part of Oregon to the southern Cascade Range. These wolves have even been sighted by local ranchers, but there has not been any reports of livestock predation by wolves. Nonetheless, ranchers remain concerned about the possibility of losing their animals to wolves as their numbers rise. Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity indicated that she was more concerned the wolves could fall victims to hunters as hunting season gets in motion. Ms. Kovacs indicated that California declared wolves an endangered species last year, but the California Fish and Wildlife Department will not have a management plan in effect until the end of this year. She also added that the department has no objectives for how many wolves might one day live in California and no idea how many once lived in the state before the last individual was killed in 1924.

It is amazing to see that the gray wolf has made a successful comeback to California after decades since its disappearance in 1924. Although one lone individual known as OR-7 wandered into the state from Oregon four years ago, it did not stay for long and returned back to Oregon. This time, however, a pack of seven animals (two adults and five pups) have established in the northern California's Siskiyou County. After being reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains 21 years ago, wolves migrated westwards towards Oregon and Washington before reaching California where they are protected by both state and federal endangered species acts. While this is tremendous news for wildlife officials, it is of great concern for ranchers who fear of losing their livestock to the wolves. Furthermore, the wolves themselves could fall victim to human hunters during hunting season in northern California. With this new wolf pack in the state, it is crucial that the California Fish and Wildlife Department and other organizations start considering helping ranching communities in northern California by providing them with safer alternatives to protecting their livestock from wolves. Livestock guardian dogs are the best deterrent and can help minimize livestock losses without having to resort to killing wolves. In addition, hunters should be thoroughly educated about the ecological importance of wolves and how many big game animals they can hunt so that there would still be plenty of deer and other large prey for the wolves to hunt.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Scientists Discover First New Wolf Species in Africa in 150 Years

Side by side comparison of the African golden wolf (left) and the golden jackal (right).

A study carried out by a team of researchers of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have discovered that the golden jackal in Africa is in fact a newly discovered species of wolf in 150 years. National Geographic reported that the research indicates that golden jackals in Africa and Eurasia are really two different species that look similar to each other. The new species, known as the African golden wolf, is in fact closer in an evolutionary sense to wolves than to other members like coyotes, dogs, and jackals. The golden jackal and the golden wolf look nearly identical, except for a slight size difference. Earlier research showed that Africa's golden jackals may be a subspecies of wolves. Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a biologist who lead the extensive DNA analysis, was able to affirm that they are separate from the Eurasian jackal. However, instead of being a subspecies of the gray wolf, they are their own particular species. Koepfli further added that the African golden jackal lineage separated from gray wolves and coyotes roughly 1.3 million years ago. The Eurasian jackal, on the other hand, separated about 600,000 years prior to that. Now, he is proposing renaming this new wolf species Canis anthus while the Eurasian golden jackal would enjoy its current scientific name Canis aureus. When asked why the two species look very similar to each other, Koepfli explained that this morphological similarity might be due to parallel evolution driven by ecological conditions in which these animals live, especially regarding competition from other carnivore species. According to the National Geographic, both animals live in arid desert habitats which can result in small, lean bodies with light coats that do not absorb much sunlight.

It is extremely extraordinary in the world of science that a new species of organism is discovered, and it does not get any better than this recent discovery. It had previously been widely believed that the golden jackal's range extends all the way from Africa into Asia. But now, this recent finding has shown that the golden jackal in Africa is actually a newly discovered species of wolf. This is very similar in the case of the red wolf. That is, initially the red wolf was classified as a subspecies of the gray wolf but recent genetic analysis in October 2012 concluded that it is a distinct species. The African golden wolf is also different from the golden jackal by having a larger skull, and prefers to hunt for food rather than scavenge. This can be seen when it demonstrates intolerance towards scavengers like vultures. The range of the African golden wolf extends from North Africa to the Horn of Africa, covering countries from Morocco to Somalia. Its range includes Egypt, where it was widely believed that the god Anubis is a jackal-headed god. Now, with this new discovery, it seems that Anubis should be referred to as a wolf-headed god. The African golden wolf is truly an extraordinary species and one that needs to be further studied, in order to understand its unique history, biology, and anything unusual to educate this world about the significance about the Earth's biodiversity.

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