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Conservation canines track wolf population growth

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - 09:45

There are more wolves in Washington state than officials originally estimated. A lot more.

In the most recent estimate from 2018, officials counted 24 packs. The state reports a growth rate of 30 percent per year. Sometimes it's less; last year's growth rate was just six percent.

A couple of years ago, research teams with the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology started using dogs rescued from shelters, who find scat from wildlife. The dogs have allowed them to monitor predators across the state from cougars to coyotes and wolves to black bears. Unlike limited monitoring of collared wolves, the dogs cover the entire population of animals and can get a wide variety of information like diet, sex, identity, stress, reproductive hormones, and pregnancy rates.

“We have a well-known project in the San Juan Islands on killer whales where the dogs are actually detecting floating scat,” Dr. Sam Wasser said. "One of the phenomenal benefits of these dogs is outreach. These dogs are absolutely public magnets. People just love them."

The team has collected 8,000 scat samples.

“We analyzed over 6,000 of those samples and we got 541 samples from wolves in year one and 285 in year two,” said Wasser.

Of the samples collected in the eastern third of the state, scientists identified 60 unique wolves in the first year with a population estimate of 68 individuals. In the second year, they collected 92 unique wolf scat samples with a population estimate of 95 wolves. The data shows the state has far more wolves than previously estimated.

However, Wasser said there could be at least 200 wolves, because they don't know how many of the wolves leaving scat samples were permanent or passing through.

Chase Gunnell, spokesperson for Conservation Northwest, was excited by the survey results, saying that they showed wolf recovery was progressing well.

Read the original story on King 5 News.

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