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Do Dogs Pose a Serious Threat to Europe’s Wolves?

It’s estimated that 17,000 wolves live around Europe in countries including Spain, Greece and Finland and scientists fear they may be under threat to some extent from free-roaming dogs and wolf-dog cross-breeds, who could threaten their existence across the continent.

Wolf-dog hybrids have become more prominent in Europe and as a result of humans destroying natural habitats, more and more free-roaming dogs threaten the genetic identity of wolves, according to a new paper published on the subject.

Do Dogs Pose a Serious Threat to Europe’s Wolves?
The study focused on a group of wild dogs living on the outskirts of Rome / Photo Credit: Simona Cafazzo

More than 40 scientists shared opinions in the published paper and were able to express their opinions anonymously.

While most agree about the problem, no clear agreement has been reached on how to protect Europe’s wolves and the study warns that a lack of engagement and agreement by the community could hamper efforts to tackle wolf-dog hybridisation.

Why there’s a need to tackle the problem, according to scientists

“We need to address this issue before wolf-dog hybrids backcross with wolves to the extent that wolf populations will be lost to hybrid swarms and the conservation of wild populations will become unfeasible.”

That was said by lead author Valerio Donfrancesco, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“In this paper, we argue that scientific agreement is crucial to encourage decision-makers to act, and to raise awareness about this conservation issue in society at large.

“The fact that we know so little about the ecology, behaviour and social acceptance of the wolf-dog hybrids adds a layer of concern to the issue.”

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According to the study’s findings, scientists feel that people should be educated about the impact of free-roaming dogs and governments should ‘remove wolf-dog hybrids from small and recovering wild wolf populations’.

But were divided on issues such as how to remove hybrids and free-roaming dogs, and whether they should be kept captive, neutered/spayed and released or even killed.

Donfrancesco explained, “The disagreements emerged from diverging ethical values between scientists of different backgrounds”

“Such as ecologists and geneticists, from the lack of data on the effectiveness of different interventions and from the worry of some scientists that on practical grounds allowing the removal of hybrids would open a legal loophole for the killing of wolves.”

Do Dogs Pose a Serious Threat to Europe’s Wolves?
Photo Credit: Simona Cafazzo

Co-author Paolo Ciucci, of the Sapienza University of Rome, added, “The management of hybrids and wolf-dog hybridisation should not be a taboo topic, especially within the scientific community.

“There are margins to develop further consensus among scientists if further research addresses topical issues such as the effectiveness and the feasibility of control measures and their social acceptability.

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“Scientists should not avoid the problem just because its management appears overly complex.”

Co-author Dr Nibedita Mukherjee, from the University of Exeter, added: “We hope that by highlighting areas of disagreement and why they occur, we will be able to build a more unified scientific opinion, and aid an effective management of this urgent issue.”

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Facts about wolf-dog hybrids

  • A wolf-dog hybrid is a canine produced by the mating of a domesticated dog with a grey wolf, eastern wolf, red wolf, or Ethiopian wolf.
  • The first record of wolf-dog breeding in Great Britain comes from the year 1766.
  • Wolf dogs are a mixture of genetic traits, which results in less predictable behaviour patterns compared to either the wolf or dog.
  • The first wolf-dogs were part Pomeranian.
  • There isn’t an approved rabies vaccine for wolf dogs.
  • Wolf dogs are usually recommended for people who live in the wilderness or woods because they need a lot of space to remain happy, healthy and exercised.
  • Feeding your wolf-dog regular dog food won’t provide him with the nutrients he really needs.
  • Wolf dogs howl a lot.
  • Wolf dogs show their appreciation and affection by licking your teeth.
  • Some countries and some US states have prohibited the ownership of these Wolf-dog hybrids.
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  • Wolf dogs have an average litter size of 6-7.
  • Wolf-dog hybrids weigh 60 – 120 lb (27.2 – 54.4 kg).
  • The average height of a wolf-dog hybrid is somewhere between 25 – 33 in (63.5 – 83.8 cm).
  • Wolf-dog hybrids are omnivores.
  • Wolfdogs have a fairly long lifespan. They can live a healthy life of up to 13 years and can even live up to 16 years with proper care and attention.
  • The physical traits of wolf-dog hybrids are a lot like the physical traits of the wolves.
  • Even though their exact speed is not known, wolf-dog hybrids are assumed to cover a distance of 62 mi (100 km) per hour.
  • Wolf-dog hybrids are extremely preferred when it comes to rescue missions and hunting because they can track down a scent within just a few seconds.

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