It’s a Labrador wolf: DNA tests

Barb Sweet
Published on May 25, 2012
Joe Fleming was astonished when he saw what he thought might be a huge coyote tracks on the Bonavista Peninsula in early March. After he tracked and killed the animal, tests eventually proved it was a Labrador wolf. Further tests on a similar animal killed on the Baie Verte Peninsula in 2009 have now confirmed that animal as a Labrador wolf also.— Submitted photo

Long-anticipated DNA tests have confirmed the 82-pound animal shot on the Bonavista Peninsula is indeed a Labrador wolf.

That’s the conclusion of genetic testing by both Memorial University (MUN) and the University of Idaho.

News of the shooting of the animal engaged people across the province in debate and speculation, with many insisting it looked like a wolf from photos in the media.

“We can only speculate on how this wolf arrived on the island of Newfoundland, but most likely it travelled from Labrador on sea ice to the island,” Environment and Conservation Minister Terry French said in a statement.  

“Wolves are known to travel long distances and with the number of polar bears coming ashore in Newfoundland this spring, sea ice was plentiful enough to provide a travel route for a Labrador wolf.”

 Joe Fleming, who shot the animal, initially thought he’d bagged a massive coyote.

Hunter accepts DNA results

Joe Fleming is accepting the DNA testing results on the 82-pound animal that confirm it’s a Labrador wolf.

“I don’t know what to think. I guess if it’s a wolf, it’s a wolf,” Fleming said this morning, after learning the news from a report in The Telegram.

“Who would have expected it actually.”

But Fleming doesn’t think the wolf came to the island any later than a year ago and he is skeptical it’s the only one residing here. He said after shooting the animal, he has since reported larger tracks to wildlife officers. Others have seen the tracks too, he said.

And Fleming reported the animal he shot was travelling with another animal, which he said could be a smaller wolf or a hybrid.

Initially, the Spillars Cove crab fisherman and avid coyote tracker thought the beast to be a massive coyote. The story of Fleming’s kill on the Bonavista Peninsula engaged many in the province in curiosity and debate about coyotes, wolves and hybrid animals.

He said he has no time for coyotes, but respects wolves.

Fleming, who was somewhat shy of interviews when he first spoke to The Telegram in March, has been busy doing media interviews across the country.

“I had calls you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

“All over the island — every media. You name it I’ve got it. I guess you get used to it.”

Fleming also said he would have liked to have been kept more informed by wildlife officers of the testing results.

Tissue samples from the animal were sent to Memorial University’s CREAIT Genomics and Proteomics Facility and the University of Idaho’s Laboratory for Evolutionary, Ecological and Conservation Genetics.

The Idaho university is involved in genetic testing research by students as part of the provincial caribou strategy. The samples were compared to those of known wolf, coyote and domestic dog populations.

“Based on the analyses of our samples, which included coyotes from insular Newfoundland, wolves from Labrador and dogs from both insular Newfoundland and Labrador, we conclude that the animal is a wolf,” Dr. Beth Perry, research associate at Genomics and Proteomics Facility,

First confirmed sighting in 90 years: minister

“Due to the complex shared history of coyotes, wolves and dogs, we conducted an extensive comparative analysis with the University of Idaho which had a number of samples in their collection as part of the provincial caribou strategy. Concurrence by both laboratories gives us a high degree of confidence in the results.”

French told The Telegram Environment and Conservation will be keeping a watch in future for signs  of wolves on the island and it’s not believed Labrador wolves are breeding here.

But there have been times in the past when people have said they thought they saw a wolf.

“This is the first confirmed sighting in 90 years, so it’s pretty remarkable,” French said.

Initial DNA results were conflicting so French asked for more extensive testing.

He credited the MUN  and Idaho labs for co-operating to solve the mystery once and for all.

“They worked excellent together,” French said.

Idaho was sought out to help because of its worldwide expertise in the field as well as the link to the caribou strategy, French said.

But he said the province has faith in MUN’s abilities.

“Memorial is our university and we’re damn proud of her,” French said.

Through the coyote carcass collection program, tissue samples from some 3,000 carcasses have been tested and no wolves ever found among them, the department said.

The island caribou strategy has not shown any sign of the presence of wolves and the department doesn’t suspect wolves are breeding on the island.

The Newfoundland wolf became extinct on the island around 1930, but the grey wolf is common in Labrador. Wolves on the island would change its ecology, as their presence introduces a new predator.