As storm clouds loomed over the coastal prairie and low, rumbling thunder echoed in the distance, I quickened my pace.
Having placed a motion-sensing camera near a small, brackish marsh, there were still several hundred yards left to change film and perhaps validate sighting reports for the area.
After rounding a corner of the trail, I stopped for a second to adjust the hood of my jacket when I saw it.
Lying in the broad open was what appeared to be a wolf.
Its coat was deep red and the head showed a prominent sagital crest, broad snout, highlighted by large ears. Its tail was long but not too bushy and it had a white tip that matched the lining on the front of its legs.
Fewer than 40 yards separate us yet I wanted to move in closer. Slowly walking toward the animal without looking directly in its eyes, I closed the distance another 10 yards before it showed any signs of distress. Then it suddenly jumped to its feet and retreated with a gait only found in wolves.
Validation would not come from the lens of the camera but with my own two eyes in what was the most unique wildlife encounter of my life. A reader tipped me off to the wolves in this area and following up had paid off in a magnificent way but this encounter would not be the end of the story.
What was it that I saw?
Canis rufus, the red wolf, was common in the southeastern United States from the Carolinas to central Texas. However, popular theory has it predator control programs combined with habitat loss in certain areas reduced the population and by the 1970s, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) officials declared the only remaining red wolves were in eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.
The common thinking was the population threatened itself by interbreeding with the canis latrans and canis familiaris (domestic dog). In response to this, Service officials made canis rufus the first-ever mammal put on the endangered species list and started a capture program starting in 1973 to find the last remaining “genetically pure” red wolves and found a captive breeding program. In 1980, Service officials considered the red wolf extinct in the wild and labeled only 14 of the hundreds of animals they caught as pure red wolves. These 14 specimens are the basis for all of the red wolves in the federal recovery program.
Research that is more recent suggests the red wolf is a fertile hybrid of the coyote and gray wolf. DNA analysis of 77 canids captured for the captive breeding program from 1976-76 (including some of the first animals in the captive breeding program) revealed only genotypes only found in southern coyotes or gray wolves. In fact, they even showed a grey wolf characteristic of the Mexican gray wolf, another highly endangered species.
Without question there are animals in Texas that look virtually exactly like the red wolves in the federal captive breeding program. Whether they are genetically the same is up for debate there are wild canines other than coyotes out there. The popular term for them is “coywolves”.
I have pondered many times what that animal was thinking as we stared at one another and then another thought crossed my mind.
If a simple stare caused this proud creature to retreat into the brush, what could a growing human population starving for land to develop do to them? How many are there? These are questions I continually ponder.
At the end of the day, I say if it looks like a wolf and howls like a wolf it is probably a wolf.
Or maybe a “coywolf” in this case.
The video you see here was captured on a game camera in my research and looks to be a “coywolf”.
Have you seen such a creature? If so please share photos and video links.
Chester Moore, Jr.