Discussion: WA Wildlife Officials Feared Unborn Wolf Pups May Have Been Hybrids

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has placed collars equipped with GPS on some endangered gray wolves.  This gives wildlife officials the ability to track the location of the collared wolves.  They recently used this capability to locate a female wolf known to have been in the company of a male domesticated dog who had climbed his property’s fence and escaped.  Officials used a helicopter to chase and shoot the female with a tranquilizer.  Finding the wolf pregnant, officials captured her, killed all the unborn puppies, spayed her so she can never breed again and re-released her.  Their reasoning:

“Our goal is restoration of a native wolf population, not producing a generation of hybrids we’d have to take care of in another way later,” said Donny Martorello, the Fish and Wildlife Department’s carnivore manager in Olympia.


“Spaying was a better alternative than trying to go out and kill all the pups after they’re born,” he said.

What’s your take on this incident?  Is there any way that wildlife officials knew for certain the domesticated dog was the sire of one or more of the pups the wolf was carrying?  Were the only two choices in this case killing the pups in utero or killing them after they were born?  Are the actions of wildlife officials consistent with their stated goal of restoring the native wolf population?

26 thoughts on “Discussion: WA Wildlife Officials Feared Unborn Wolf Pups May Have Been Hybrids

  1. Obviously spaying a healthy fertile female is not conducive to the goal of restoring the population. I don’t understand why they didn’t wait until she gave birth to see if the pups were full wolves or hybrids, and then if they were hybrids, wait a few months, use mama’s GPS to locate family, and TNR the pups. Maybe I just don’t know enough about wolves to understand why that wasn’t considered an option.

  2. Unfortunately from what I remember of wolf behavior a spayed female loses the hormones and scent needed to keep her place in the pack. These “experts” may have just doomed her to a life outside any pack. All they needed to do was a c-section of they were really intent on killing the puppies. It saddens me to think they probably killed pure wolf puppies regardless of what dog she was running with at the time.

  3. Not the right action to take! They are heartless and don’t care about what they’re doing! It seems the solution is kill, kill, kill! I’m sick of the uncaring and neglect! Why not use the new sterilizing shot!

  4. Hybrids they would “have to take care of in another way later.” ??? I’m so tired of euphemisms. In any case, they should have just left them alone, all of them.
    There is an undue emphasis on populations at the expense of individuals.

  5. Did they confirm that the male was intact? And even if they didn’t, why not wait to see? They may have just killed off endangered wolf pups for all they know. And now, a spayed female, what is she to the pack?

    Wonder if anyone followed up with the dog’s owner to see if neutering him is an option to prevent this kind of barbarism the next time?

  6. How about the enormous cost of deploying a HELICOPTER to chase and then tranquilize the animal on the off chance that the pups were hybrid!? If, in the name of conservation, an agency would go to this length to repopulate the area, why is it not an option to hold the animal for <53 days til the pups were born to then test them?? That seems crazy to abort the litter after all the time and money spent on a hunch.

  7. After they aborted the pups, did the officials ever test said pups to determine whether they were full wolf or hybrids? If the officials are truly interested in preserving or growing the wolf population, that step would be key. Apparently they couldn’t be bothered to do their (taxpayer-funded) jobs.

    1. I imagine that they weren’t too keen to test the pups. They may have been found to be pure wolf and then what? OPPS!

  8. I do not think there is a definitive test to find out if a puppy/adult is a wolf or a domesticated dog.

  9. If they were that concerned about it then track her till she dens, sedate her, take a DNA sample from the pups, test it. If the sample comes back that they’re part dog THEN handle the pups as need be (I don’t agree with killing them, but….wolf hybrids aren’t exactly simple to place into homes and sanctuaries tend to run full thanks to us idiot humans). Its going to be at least a month before they’d be mobile enough to escape themselves. Plenty of time to run the testing.

    Instead they just lost themselves an OBVIOUSLY breed-able female, and likely killed her since I don’t expect her to be accept into a pack once the hormones fade. Not to mention a ton of bad publicity….

  10. They were very certain that the pups were hybrids because the female was not in proximity to any male wolves while in heat (the only reason the male dog was able to get near her, let alone mate with her).

    There are several issues with this decision, some of which have already been brought up. But one that most people miss is that dogs are a subspecies of wolf, not a separate species, and probably EVERY SINGLE living gray wolf has some dog genes due to the long history of cross mating since dogs have existed. The wolf they spayed… already had dog genes in her, just not very many.

    I understand that modern species recovery programs have a hard time incorporating this fact into their decision-making process, but the best, most natural thing to do would have been to leave the pups alone. It really doesn’t matter to the wolves recovery if the pups grew up to mate with more wolves or not since this has been happening for tens of thousands of years and is a rare event, like backcrossing with dog genes sort of – this was not really a “contamination event” like most people think.

    Spaying was a drastic, resource-wasting and inhumane decision that ignores the natural history and relationship between dogs and wolves.

  11. For people who supposedly are experts in wolves this is unbelievable. At the very least, after aborting the puppies, there was no need to spay her. Did they think that after having bred with a domestic dog once, every puppy after that would be tainted with domestic dog genes whether the father was a wolf or not? That’s the thinking of someone who knows very little about genes and inheritance.

    1. You can’t really do abortions on canines (not well anyway). These wildlife agents spayed her because it’s the only reliable way to stop the pregnancy. If there was a safe, reliable way to stop an unwanted canine pregnancy without spaying, I guarantee they would have done that instead. They’re not dumb: they KNOW they just removed a breeding female from the population (though the fact that she mated with a dog probably means she was the type of wolf who wouldn’t have EVER mated with a male wolf and raised pups to adult hood because of her status, lack of available males, etc.)

      I don’t agree that the pregnancy had to be stopped just because they were dog hybrids, but keep the facts straight.

  12. Sometimes it is very hard to understand those in charge of our natural resources. In Michigan, wolves were JUST taken off of the endangered species list, so the powers-that-be instituted a season for wolf hunting (against the wishes of the majority of the people in the state). Their reasoning is that maybe a wolf might attack livestock or live too close to people. The only answer? KILL!
    They do have a “herd mentality” and don’t think much about the individuals at all.
    Regardless, I’m sorry for the female and for her pups. Never should have happened this way.

    1. Talked with a vet who had gone from private practice to department of natural resources vet. He talked only about “herd health” and had no concern for an individual animal. So, yes, it is kill first. Much easier and you know, there are a bizillion more out there just like the dead one. Makes me sick to my stomach how callous we have become about living beings.

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