Just when you think a coyote is a whitetail’s worst nightmare, Savannah River Site researchers have found something even scarier: a super-sized coyote that is part grey wolf.
The big female, which weighed in at 64.4 pounds, was trapped by U.S. Forest Service biologists in late 2010 as part of an ongoing study into coyote predation on whitetail fawns.
“From our perspective, it’s an extremely rare, isolated animal, based on the sampling we’ve done,” said research biologist John Kilgo, whose team has trapped about 500 coyotes and examined another 200 animals killed during SRS deer hunts in recent years.
The unusually large animal – roughly twice the size of typical southeastern coyotes – was tested at a lab in Canada, which confirmed she carried the DNA of a Canadian grey wolf.
The good news, however, is that it was the only animal among 700 sampled at the site that was part wolf - which raises the troubling question of how it ended up in South Carolina.
“We don’t know where it came from,” Kilgo said. “People sometimes move animals around and people have pet wolf-hybrids, but we have no way to know how this one got here.”
Although the animal carried wolf DNA, that doesn’t mean its parents were a wolf and a coyote, he said.
“The lab did not identify exactly what it was,” he said, noting that the genus canis includes everything from wolves to domestic dogs. “It’s an incredibly confused taxonomy.”
Georgia state deer biologist Charlie Killmaster of the Wildlife Resources Division was unaware of any similar animals being found in Georgia.
“It would not surprise me if one did turn up, though,” he said, noting that hybrid animals are known to occur. “It’s not like finding Bigfoot or anything.”
Although the wolf-coyote mix was an apparent oddity, studies at SRS and other venues continue to build stronger evidence that regular coyotes kill huge numbers of whitetail fawns each spring.
Using radio collars and other modern tools, Kilgo’s team concluded coyotes are killing as many as 70 percent to 80 percent of newborn fawns in some areas.
State wildlife managers across the Southeast are also starting to evaluate coyote predation and its impact on whitetail populations. The ultimate result could be that states are forced to adjust hunting pressure to compensate for deer killed by coyotes.
The next phase of SRS studies, which compare fawn mortality in areas where coyotes were heavily trapped versus areas where they were left along, is due out later this year.
PORK PAIN: Last week’s column about the frequency of attacks by feral hogs got lots of attention.
Although feral pigs kill and maim almost as many folks as sharks, it’s the big hungry fish that grab the headlines, while hog attacks are barely noticed, according to research by renowned hog expert Jack Mayer.
Well, several readers who commented on the column believe there are lots more people injured by feral hogs than researchers can count.
For example, I was at the post office Monday and one of my favorite clerks mentioned the article – and added that her uncle had a finger lopped off many years ago by a angry, wounded boar. The incident still gets talked about at family reunions.
One of my old hunting pals also mentioned an injury – to a friend’s ankle -– that required a patchwork of stitches to seal up. The way he described it, the boar must have given the fellow a scar worthy of the famous scar duel discussion in the Jaws movie.
The data on feral pig injuries was fascinating, but did not include the most common human injury associated with feral hogs: back pain from dragging them out of the woods and hoisting them onto a tailgate.
FISH PUN FUN: Not everyone is tickled with Georgia’s new GO FISH license plate, which features a likeness of a trout.
“I would be happy to buy the GO FISH tag if the image was a largemouth bass and not a rainbow trout,” wrote my friend and longtime colleague Bill Baab, to state officials.
After all, he noted, the largemouth of the state fish, and the world record bass was landed right here in Georgia.
“Why is there so much resistance from the Georgia DNR to depicting the bass on a tag?” he asked. “I really don’t want to carp about it, but I’m bullheaded! And, by gar, I’ll keep being crappie about it!”