A recent study by University of Tartu zoologists confirms hybrids of male wolves and female dogs exist in Estonia.
Eight animals exhibiting unusual external characteristics for wolves - six from Estonia and two from Latvia - proved to be wolf-dog hybrids after gene analysis. The analysis of wolf pups hunted from Taebla municipality provides the first scientific evidence from Europe of mating between male wolves and female dogs in the wild, said the Estonian study, which included collaboration work with Latvia and Poland.
From the perspective of species conservation, hybridization poses a concern, as it can threaten the integrity and fitness of many wild species, including canids. As a result of habitat fragmentation and extensive hunting pressure, gray wolf populations have declined dramatically in Europe and elsewhere in the last centuries.
Professional hunters fear the hybrids will acquire aggressive characteristics and pose a threat to livestock and humans, reported University of Tartu's scientific magazine Novaator. The wolf-dog hybrids from the study are first-generation, therefore, the scientists are unsure if the hybrids are able to breed. The scientists' next goal is to figure this out.
Hunters are given permission to kill roughly a hundred wolves each year to keep the Estonian wolf population at around 200. Unusual-looking wolves with canine characteristics are reported to scientists.