Daniel MacEachern · CBC News
The coyote-wolf hybrid killed near Botwood last fall is a rare animal in Newfoundland — but becoming more common, says a provincial wildlife director.
John Blake of the Department of Environment and Climate Change says the large animal caught by Kevin Strowbridge in November was revealed through testing at Memorial University’s genetics lab to be a hybrid between a grey wolf and an eastern coyote.
Hybridization has been common elsewhere for decades, said Blake.
“[But] in the case of the ecology of Newfoundland and Labrador, certainly a new phenomena here.”
It’s relatively new, but growing; Blake said the “Botwood Beast” is the 11th such hybrid confirmed by the provincial government.
These animals, these hybrids, are becoming more prevalent, they’re becoming more known in the harvest, and their range is expanding.
– John Blake
“Most of them seem to come from that northeast coast, Baie Verte Peninsula down to Bonavista Peninsula and inland,” he said.
“Although, this year, in 2016, we do have confirmation of one that’s kind of south of the Trans-Canada Highway that was harvested on the Gaff Topsails [in central Newfoundland]. So it seems to be that these animals, these hybrids, are becoming more prevalent, they’re becoming more known in the harvest, and their range is expanding.”
In 2012, when a hunter killed a grey wolf on the Bonavista Peninsula,it was the first known sighting of a wolf on the island since the 1930s. when the animals were wiped out. The discovery of the wolf prompted wildlife officials to look a little farther back, said Blake.
Migrating from Labrador
“A subsequent re-examination of some of the carcasses that we had, some of the samples that we had, revealed that in fact we had a total of four grey wolves on the island, the earliest one being 2008.”
He said that that’s not enough evidence to suggest an established wolf population in Newfoundland, as opposed to individual wolves making their way over from Labrador on sea ice.
“Until we actually get some proof of breeding, and some pups, wolf pups, we don’t have established wolf populations here that we know of,” he said.
Carcass collection cancelled in 2013
Gathering coyote data — and finding potential wolves or hybrids — became harder in 2013, when the provincial government cancelled a mandatory coyote carcass collection program, said Blake.
“We were able to draw from that sample anything that looked obviously large, had morphological features that suggested it was not an eastern coyote but perhaps a wolf,” he said.
“Now, with the cancellation of that program, we rely very much on voluntary submissions of trappers and hunters to identify animals that appear to be larger than the typical eastern coyote that we’ve been harvesting over the last two decades.”