Citizen scientists confirm India’s first wolf dog hybrid

Humans are increasingly going into habitats formerly confined to wildlife and in such interactions, the likelihood of feral and domesticated animals and wildlife grows.

In places where there are high number of free-ranging dogs — street dogs — the chances are high that hybridization occurs. In India, the first ever case of a wolf-dog hybrid has been confirmed with genetic testing.

Citizen scientists identified two phenotypically different- looking individuals and subsequently collected non- invasive samples that were used by geneticists to test wolf- dog hybridization. The results found the first evidence of a wolf-dog hybrid in India.

The research came about after a suspected wolf-dog hybrid animal with an unusually tawny coat was captured in a photograph by a group of nature lovers near Pune in Maharashtra.

The citizen researchers observed that the individual looked different from others in the wolf pack. They followed the animal and collected the hair strands which were shed by it.

The samples were then used to extract DNA and processed for segregating, identifying, pressing and following other scientific protocols.

The researchers then used 11 wolf whole genomes that consisted of three from North America and Europe. Another three were from west and central Asia and the remaining five were from Indian wolves.

They also used 16 dog genomes for anaylsing samples including dogs from Kenya, Nepal, India, China and east Asia. The scientists also investigated the species for admixture with golden jackals and dholes using three genomes.

The results, published earlier this month, revealed the occurrence of wolf-dog hybridisation in peninsular India with pictures showing evidence of dog genome introgression in the wolf population.

In India, prioritizing sites to investigate wolf– dog hybridization is difficult because of a multitude of reasons: the country is large and megadiverse, and the scale and breadth of the human–wildlife interface is substantive. In India, wolves mostly occupy savanna grassland and scrub habitats outside designated protected areas, beyond the jurisdiction of the state forest departments.

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Peg Fong is also in recovery from newspapers

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