Wildlife officials are analyzing DNA to identify an unknown “wolf-like” animal. On May 16, the lone creature was shot and killed on a family ranch in Denton, Montana after it was spotted in a pasture with livestock.
Game wardens responded to the scene, collected the dead animal and sent photos to the agency’s wolf specialist in a nearby city.
“Based on the photograph, [the specialist] has some doubts as to whether or not it’s a pure-bred wolf or hybrid of a wild dog of sorts,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden Sargeant Kyle Andersene told a local radio station.
The animal was then transported to a laboratory in Bozeman, Montana where it is awaiting evaluation by the state veterinarian. Officials won’t be able to say with certainty exactly what it is until DNA samples are analyzed. Until then, there are some working theories.
Ty Smucker, wolf management specialist for Montana FWP, told a local newspaper he believes the animal could be a wolf-dog hybrid and it wouldn’t be the first time.
“We’ve had a few instances of wolf-dog hybrids out there,” he said. “One was out somewhere in eastern central Montana killing sheep like crazy. Finally, we caught it and it turned out to be hybrid.” Wolves are known in the state to predate on livestock and can cost the state upwards of $100,000 annually in livestock loss.
Naturally, the Internet had a few ideas of its own. The North American Dogma Project jumped on board. Other theories ranged from the mysterious Chupacabra to the Hyena-like Shunka Warakin, and even the prehistoric Dire wolf. All ideas that, while entertaining, are not totally founded in science.
The truth is: dogs can actually breed with wolves. Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and wolves (Canis lupus) are interfertile, meaning the two can interbreed and produce offspring. In theory, wolves can breed with any type of dog (although a wolf-pug hybrid might be difficult to achieve) because the two share an evolutionary past.
While it doesn’t happen often – wolves are territorial and often kill intruders – it has been documented. In 2014, a team of researchers in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains analyzed hair, blood, and scat samples from wolves, mutts, and sheepdogs. It turns out, the livestock-guarding dogs (whose sole purpose is to keep wolves away from sheep) had taken to befriending the enemy: 10 percent of the animals had a recent relative that was not of their species and three percent were a first-generation hybrid.