For centuries Norwegian-Swedish wolves made their homes in the vast Scandinavian forests. Today, the only place you will see one of these wolves is at a zoo. In the rest of the wild, the Norwegian-Swedish wolf is extinct.
There are still wolves in Norway and Sweden, Phys.org reports, but they are most likely packs that have migrated from Finland and further after the Norwegian-Swedish wolves disappeared.
“The original Norwegian-Swedish wolves probably didn’t share their genetics with the wolves in Norway and Sweden today,” says Hans Stenøien, director of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum.
Stenøien and his team of researchers have been studying the genetic composition of the Norwegian-Swedish wolf. They have since completed the largest genetic study of wolves in the world, but were forced to find subjects in zoos outside Norway as there are none left in their native habitat. Moreover, wolves in Norway today are not closely related to the Norwegian-Swedish wolf, which are “true wolves” with few dog genes.
The Norwegian-Swedish wolf likely migrated to Norway during a warm period when glacial ice had been retreating, around 12,000 years ago. As humans began to colonize, build farms and cities, especially after the industrial era, hunting and habitat destruction hastened the disappearance of the Norwegian-Swedish wolf.
In the 1980s, the wolf population on the border of Norway and Sweden experienced a resurgence as Finnish wolves moved in to hunt on the grounds the Norwegian-Swedish wolves once occupied.
“The wolves in Norway and Sweden today most likely come from wolves that migrated from Finland,” Stenøien says.
Studying genetic differences between the Norwegian-Swedish wolf and the wolves in Norway today, Stenøien and his team made a few discoveries. One was in their distinct differences from dogs.
“The wolves in this country are among the ones that have the least amount of dog in the whole world, maybe even the very fewest dog traits,” Stenøien says.
Another discovery is a cause for concern. The team noted little genetic variation in the wolves currently roaming the Norway Sweden border, a result of inbreeding.
“This lack of variation makes wolves vulnerable to various diseases and hereditary conditions,” Stenøien says.
As the only remaining Norwegian-Swedish wolves are kept in zoos, they may be they only hope for reestablishing the species in their native habitat, but the risks of such an undertaking are high, and the chances of success slim. Without current breeding programs in zoos, it may be only a few more years until the Norwegian-Swedish wolf is history.
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