DNA testing confirms second wolf on island of Newfoundland

Published on August 23, 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

An animal killed by a Baie Verte Peninsula resident in 2009 has been confirmed as a wolf, following extensive genetic testing by both Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Idaho, the provincial government announced today.

“After an 82-pound animal harvested in March 2012 by a resident of the Bonavista Peninsula was confirmed as a Labrador wolf, the department reviewed earlier work and re-tested any samples with DNA consistent with domestic dog or wolf,” said Terry French, Minister of Environment and Conservation, in a news release.

“In the past, samples had been determined to be more similar to coyote or domestic dog than to wolf. At the time this work was conducted, however, the laboratory doing the analysis did not have any samples from Labrador wolf to compare.”

 Of the retested samples, using the improved database for comparison, laboratories at Memorial University and the University of Idaho confirmed that a sample from a large coyote-like animal trapped on the Baie Verte Peninsula in 2009 was, in fact, a wolf.

“The DNA of the animal trapped on the Baie Verte Peninsula matches the genetics of the Labrador wolf population and is like the animal that was shot on the Bonavista peninsula,” French said. “The department will continue to collect predator samples for DNA analysis and will report any further evidence of wolves on the island of Newfoundland.”

 Joe Fleming of Spillars Cove near Bonavista, a crab fisherman and avid coyote tracker, killed an 82-pound animal in March that raised a lot of interest and debate as to whether it was a large coyote or a wolf. DNA testing results later confirmed the animal as a Labrador wolf.

Tissue samples from the 2009 Baie Verte Peninsula 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 was engaged because of ongoing student research involving genetic testing as part of the provincial caribou strategy. The samples were compared to reference samples from known wolf, coyote and domestic dog populations. Both laboratories concur that, based on the extensive genetic testing at both facilities, the animal is a Labrador wolf.

As part of ongoing wildlife research in the province, the provincial government works with hunters and trappers to collect tissue samples through the coyote carcass collection program. To date, approximately 3,000 carcasses have been collected and no wolves have been detected. Additionally, approximately 900 hair, scat and live capture samples have been tested as part of the island caribou strategy without any further evidence of wolves.

The Newfoundland wolf became extinct on the island around 1930, but the grey wolf is common in Labrador. Although wolves may occasionally arrive from Labrador, there is no evidence of a breeding population on the island portion of the province.