Are Mexican wolves in Arizona actually wolf-dog hybrids?

A recent Arizona Daily Independent article notes that Arizona Game & Fish intends to sue the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) alleging that the FWS recovery plan is out of date and fails to use the best available science. “Without an updated plan that includes recovery criteria, the Mexican Wolf will remain on the Endangered Species list in perpetuity. To make matters worse, a recent proposal to increase the geographic boundaries for the Mexican Wolf will result in huge swaths of lands becoming blocked off for other uses and in most cases prevent things like energy extraction, mining, timber harvesting and various other forms of economic development.”

There is another issue: there is some evidence that the captive bred and wild Mexican wolves in Arizona are actually wolf-dog hybrids or wolf-coyote hybrids which would make them ineligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Southern Arizona Cattlemen’s Protective Association (SACPA) has archived correspondence regarding this question at I will summarize the material.

Besides wild caught wolves, there are three lineages for Arizona Mexican wolves included in the FWS captive breeding program named the ”Ghost Ranch,” “Aragon,” and “Certified” lineages. These are the animals that FWS is releasing into the wild.

The first item in the SACPA archive is a letter dated June 2, 1997, to the FWS from Roy McBride, the person who captured five of the foundational wild Mexican wolves from which the FWS experimental population descended.

Mr. McBride writes that it was the conclusion of the original recovery team that all members of the Ghost Ranch lineage were wolf-dog hybrids, and that he is “shocked” that these wolves were to be included in the captive breeding program. “This was the primary factor behind the decision to seek and capture the remaining wild population, because it was the only pure genetic stock available.” The Ghost Ranch animals were from a private zoo in Carlsbad, N.M. and upon inspection, Mr. McBride had no doubt that these animals were hybrids.

FWS responded that a review of data by a “genetics committee” concluded, in 1994, that all three lines, Certified, Aragon, and Ghost Ranch, were pure Mexican wolves.

The second item is a history of the captive breeding program written in 1986 by Jack B. Woody. At the time of that writing the Mexican wolf was “presumed to be extinct in the United States.”
Woody notes that at the time, there was no taxonomic means of assigning an individual wolf to the Mexican wolf subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi). He also notes that the skulls of the Ghost Ranch lineage have definite characteristics of dogs. Woody says it is unclear whether this trait is due to hybridization or the effects of inbreeding. The genetic base of the captive breeding program is only four wild-caught wolves.

Item three is a summary from the Mexican Wolf stud book, 1987. This report notes some problems with inbreeding.

Item four is a partial transcript from Symposio Sobre Lobo Mexicano, which reported on field investigations of Mexican wolves in northern Mexico and southeastern Arizona. The study shows that the Mexican wolf population in Arizona is transient.

Item five discusses the ancestry and distribution of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. The pedigrees of the founding members of the three captive bred families is murky. This paper suggests that members of at least two of the three lines had some dog-like characteristics.

Item six is a concise fact sheet listing the origins of the three wolf lineages:

The “Certified” lineage was established from one female and two male wild-caught wolves.
The origin of the original “Ghost Ranch” female is unknown. The original male was probably a wolf-dog hybrid according to reports documented at the time. The founders of the “Aragon” lineage were obtained from the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, but the lineage is unknown.

A new paper published in November, 2014, studied the genetics of wolves in North America. The paper is:

Cronin et al., 2014, Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) Variation of Wolves (Canis lupus) in Southeast Alaska and Comparison with Wolves, Dogs, and Coyotes in North America, Journal of Heredity, doi:10.1093/jhered/esu075.

This paper says that the so-called Mexican wolf is not a valid sub-species; rather it is a hybrid with coyotes and possibly with dogs.

Here is how the paper’s authors put it:

“Our data and those of vonHoldt et al. (2011) also show SNP differentiation of Mexican wolves (C. l. baileyi) from other North American wolves. However, extant and historic samples show
that Mexican wolves lack mtDNA monophyly, share haplotypes with wolves in other areas and with coyotes, (Leonard et al. 2005; Hailer and Leonard 2008), and extant Mexican wolves came from only 7 founders that may have included dog ancestry (although genetic data indicate this is improbable and/or of small genetic importance, García-Moreno et al. 1996; Hedrick et al. 1997). These factors indicate that designation of a Mexican wolf subspecies is of questionable validity. Indeed, North American wolf subspecies in general are questionable and have been described as arbitrary, typological, and an inter-grading series of populations (Wayne and Vilá 2003 and references therein)…This indicates there is unwarranted taxonomic inflation of wildlife subspecies designations similar to unwarranted species designations.”

It appears from these data that FWS is trying to establish a recovery program for an animal that is not a valid species, contrary to the Endangered Species Act.

See also:

Wolf attacks on humans in North America

Wolf attacks on humans in North America

WolfI have often heard the claim by some environmentalists that there has never been a documented attack on humans by wolves in North America. That claim is untrue as I will demonstrate. Wolf attacks on humans are rare as are attacks by mountain lions and bears, but they do occur. Somewhat more common are apparent “stalkings” by wolves, especially of children in rural areas. Quite common, however, are incidents of predation by wolves on sheep and cattle.


A sampling of documented wolf attacks on humans:

I begin with Alaska Department of Fish & Game Technical Bulletin 13 (2002) entitled “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada.” That study was precipitated by a wolf attack on a 6-year-old boy near Icy Bay, Alaska, in April, 2000. The study documents 80 wolf-human “encounters.” “Thirty-nine cases contain elements of aggression among healthy wolves, 12 cases involve known or suspected rabid wolves, and 29 cases document fearless behavior among non-aggressive wolves. In 6 cases in which healthy wolves acted aggressively, the people were accompanied by dogs. Aggressive, non rabid wolves bit people in 16 cases; none of those bites was life-threatening, but in 6 cases the bites were severe.”

KXLY News, Billings, Montana, Oct 12, 2011:

PIERCE, Idaho – A North Idaho grandmother considers herself lucky to be alive after she was able to shoot and kill a wolf as it tried to attack her on a recent hunting trip.

The wolf snuck up on Rene Anderson late last month near Headquarters, Idaho about 125 miles southeast of Spokane.

“It was coming down pretty fast towards me; it was kind of nerve racking. I laid my bow on the ground and I thought this thing seriously wants to eat me,” she said.

Anderson knew just how much danger she was in because just six days before, wolves had killed three of her best friend’s hunting dogs.

Daily News-Miner, Fairbanks, Alaska Dec 17, 2012:

A wolf attacked a Tok trapper on his snowmachine last week about 30 miles off the Taylor Highway, biting through the man’s parka and three layers of clothing to put a 3-inch gash on his arm.

Lance Grangaard, 30, said he was “putting along” on his Ski-Doo Tundra on Thursday afternoon, coming down a frozen creek, when he saw the wolf out of the corner of his eye.

“I turned in time to stick my arm up,” said Grangaard, who was trapping with his father, Danny, in a remote area off the Taylor Highway known as Ketchumstuk. “A single black wolf grabbed my arm and started jerking on me.”

Chignik Lake, Alaska, December 7, 2011:

At least two wolves chased down and killed a teacher who was jogging on a road last year outside a rural Alaska village, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The body of Candice Berner, 32, a special education teacher originally from Slippery Rock, Pa., was found March 8, 2010, two miles outside Chignik Lake. The village is 474 miles southwest of Anchorage, on the Alaska Peninsula.

Biologists ruled out reasons for the attack other than aggression. Investigators found no evidence that the wolves had acted defensively or that Berner was carrying food. They found no kill site that wolves may have been defending, no indication that the wolves had become habituated to people, and no evidence of rabies.

“This appears to have been an aggressive, predatory attack that was relatively short in duration,” the report concluded. DNA tests confirmed Berner was killed by wolves.

Worker treed by pact of wolves, Delta Co. Michigan Nov. 8, 2010

When Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson headed out to begin a forestry project Oct. 8 along Trombley Road, he didn’t expect to find himself treed by a small pack of wolves.





Aug. 9, 2019: Banff National Park, Alberta:

New Jersey family of four camping in Canada last week was saved from a wolf attack after a neighboring camper jumped into action.

The attack unfolded at Banff National Park in Alberta last Friday, according to a report by the federal agency Parks Canada. Around 1 a.m., while the family slept, a wolf tore through the foursome’s tent. (Read more)

Oct. 27, 2017: Portland, Oregon

A 38-year-old elk hunter shot and killed a wolf in self-defense while hunting in Union County — marking the first reported incident a wolf has been shot in an act of self-defense since the animal returned to the state in the late 1990s, according to officials.

Oregon State Police said the hunter, from Clackamas, reported that he had shot the animal Friday, Oct. 27.

According to police, the hunter said he had been elk hunting alone when he noticed some type of animal moving around him. He then saw what he thought were 3 coyotes. One of them began to run directly at him while another made its way around him.

The hunter told police he started to focus on the one running directly at him — screaming at it before shooting it one time. The animal died from the single shot, which also scared off the other 2. (Source)

Report from Arizona Game and Fish Department, Aug. 8, 2017

On August 8, the IFT received a call from a hiker that described an encounter they had with a wolf pack on August 1, while hiking in the ASNF. GPS collar data was used by the IFT to determine the encounter reported by the hiker was with the Saffel Pack which consists of two adult wolves and their pups from this year. The hiker told the IFT they were hiking on the Apache Trail southeast of Mexican Hay Lake on August 1 at approximately 12 noon, when they noticed a collared adult wolf standing approximately 15 feet away. The hiker stopped and looked at the wolf at which point the wolf ran to about 60 feet and then stopped. The hiker stated they observed a second collared adult wolf approximately 20 to 30 yards away and three uncollared pups approximately 50 to 60 yards away. The hiker yelled at the wolves and they did not run off. The closest wolf, which was apparent to the hiker as a male, defecated and then started jumping up and down on its front feet. The hiker fired a shot from a handgun into the ground to scare the wolves away. The closest wolf jumped at the sound of the gunshot but remained. The hiker began walking again and the closest wolf retreated to about 50 yards. The wolves then moved off into the woods to a distance of approximately 100 yards. The hiker stated that the two adult wolves paralleled the hiker and followed along the trail for a distance of about 400 yards. The hiker stated the pups were only visible intermittently at a distance during this time. GPS collar data from the Saffel Pack showed in the days following the hiker’s encounter, the Saffel Pack had moved out of the location where the encounter had occurred and by the day the IFT received the report, the Saffel Pack had begun traveling in another area to the east.

March 3, 2017: Labrador

A Labrador man turned from prey to predator this week, when he tracked down and killed a group of wolves that chased him on his dogsled.

Guido Rich hunted the four animals — two on Wednesday night, and two more on Thursday morning — after they chased him back into Rigolet.

‘I don’t think my dogs would have had a chance against four or five wolves.’

Rich says he was about 10 kilometres away from town with his dogsled Wednesday night, when he realized what he originally thought was nearby snowmobiles was actually a pack of wolves — and they were headed in his direction.

“I was there bawling at my dogs and trying to get them running fast to get back to town,” he told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning.

He outran the wolfpack into Rigolet, and went and picked up his friend and their gun. Rich and his friend returned to the trail, and found the pack close to the community. Read more

December 10, 2016, Banff National Park, Canada

Parks Canada has issued an aggressive wolf warning for Banff National Park after a ski-hill employee had to flee on a snowmobile from a pack of wolves.

The alert was issued Thursday, the day after the three remaining members of a notorious wolf pack in the Bow Valley got a little too close for comfort to a worker at Mount Norquay, prompting him to hop on his snowmobile, as the pack pursued him for a short time. Read more

November 11, 2016, British Columbia

A man was running with his dogs at dusk on a beach in Canada last week when he noticed a large wolf peering at them from the sand dunes.

Brent Woodland, 36, was finishing his usual run on Wickaninnish Beach near his home in Ucluetet, British Columbia, when the encounter occurred.

“I was making eye contact with it,” Woodland told CBC News. “I was throwing rocks and sticks at it … screaming and yelling as loud as I could … trying to get this thing to go away.

“It was stalking us. I don’t know how long it had been watching us.” See video (read more)

August 29, 2016: Sask. man recovering in hospital after wolf attack at Cameco mine

A 26-year-old man is recovering in hospital after being attacked by a wolf while on shift at a northern Saskatchewan mine.

The incident happened Monday morning at 12:05 a.m. CST at Cameco’s Cigar Lake uranium mine, about 660 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Cameco spokesperson, Rob Gereghty told CBC News that a contractor at the mine was mauled by an unprovoked wolf while taking his lunch break outside. Read more

Some historical reports of attacks by wolves on humans:

John James Audubon, of whom the Audubon society is named, reported an attack involving two men traveling through part of Kentucky near the Ohio border in the winter. The two men were carrying axes when they were viciously attacked by a pack of wolves, they managed to kill three wolves. One man was severely wounded and one man was killed, and devoured by the remainder of the wolves, only bones remained the next day. This occurred about 1830 ( Audubon,J.J.. and Bachman,J,: The Quadrupeds of North America.3 volumes. New York, 1851-1854)

In northwestern Colorado, an 18-year-old girl was viciously attacked while bringing in milk cows, she screamed and her brother, who was nearby armed with a gun responded to the scene and killed the Wolf. The wolf was a healthy young animal barely full-grown. This occurred in the summer about 1881 ( Grinnell,G.B; The Trail and Campfire- Wolves and Wolf Nature, New York, 1897).

In1942, Michael Dusiak, section foreman for the Canadian Pacific Railway, was attacked by a wolf, the wolf was killed by the train’s engineer, and a fireman with picks and other tools. It should be noted that this wolf was scanned and inspected by an Investigator Chrichton, a Conservation Officer. His assessment was the animal was young, healthy, and in good condition. (” A Record of Timber Wolf Attacking Man”Journal Of Mammalogy, Vol. 28, No. 3, August 1947).

Even environmentalists should know that wolves are predators and will attack anything given the right circumstances. The claim that there have been no wolf attacks on humans in North America is shown to be a myth.

If readers know of other wolf attacks on humans, especially in the “lower 48” please add your story to the comments section and provide a link to the original story if you can.

Incidentally, coyotes sometimes attack humans also. A paper in Human Dimensions of Wildlife reports “We conducted an analysis of coyote attacks on humans in the United States and Canada, including 142 reported incidents of coyote attacks resulting in 159 victims. Most attacks were classified as predatory (37%) or investigative (22%) in nature. The number of reported attacks was nearly equal between adults and children, although child victims were more prevalent in predatory attacks.” A large majority of these attacks were in California with Arizona coming in a distant second.