The growing population of dog-wolf hybrids is causing concern in Europe


From the moment the guards first saw him on the monitors, the problem was obvious. The wolf seen on camera deep in the woods of Italy’s Gran Bosco park in Piedmont was not gray like its companion, but unusually light. The coloring indicated that it was not a wolf, but a hybrid with a dog. According to experts, these hybrids could gradually displace the original wolves, The Guardian newspaper wrote.

“We thought he would disappear. Unfortunately, he found a female,” said Elisa Ramassová, a park ranger, about the discovery of the hybrid. The discovery of the animal points to a worrying trend. In the last two decades, although the European wolf population has started to grow again, hybrids are also increasing along with it. If they spread, wild wolves could be at risk of extinction.

Crossbreeds are found in almost all European countries, and in some areas their number is constantly growing. In Tuscany, for example, wolves account for up to 70 percent of the population, which is contributed to by the destruction of the wolves’ natural habitat and human activity. Domestic animals and stray dogs thus have more frequent contact with wild packs. “Somewhere they are essentially hybrids,” said wolf expert Luigi Boitani. “There’s nothing you can do in those cases, you can’t kill them all,” he said.

According to conservationists, hybrids are unpredictable. They can cause conflicts with people, push pure-blooded wolves out of their environment or reduce the viability of future offspring. Some fear that interbreeding will lead to a permanent loss of the animals’ distinct characteristics.

Experts warn that hybrids are “human error”. They are often the result of neglected working dogs mixing with isolated wolves whose packs have been disrupted by poaching, for example. “We are speeding up a process that could have occurred naturally,” says Valeria Salvatori, who led the first pan-European study on hybridization. “It’s like global warming. We have an obligation to mitigate such an impact,” she said.

But experts do not have a suitable solution. Some would blast hybrids, others seek the benefits of mixing. “In the modern human-dominated world, it may be useful for wolves to have some dog behavior in them… But we don’t have a real idea about the problem of interbreeding,” noted Slovenian researcher Miha Krofel.

Thanks to a collar placed on one hybrid, scientists discovered that the hybrid pack behaved just like any other. “We were worried that the hybrid would behave more like a dog and that it would seek the proximity of people and dwellings,” said Ramassová. But nothing like that happened. Solving the situation will thus require a certain agreement between scientists and wider society. “We have to gather courage and decide what we want to preserve,” says Salvatoriová. “Do we want to preserve wolves? Or something that evolved from wolves under the pressure we put on the environment?”

The article is in Czech

Tags: growing population dogwolf hybrids causing concern Europe


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