One of the best places in the world to wolf watch is Yellowstone National Park. Research conducted there, and verified elsewhere around North America, shows that wolves with black coats are better equipped to fight off infections of deadly canine distemper virus. The virus is similar to measles in humans, and is believed to have jumped from humans to their dogs thousands of years ago. Dogs interbreeding with wolves spread a gene mutation that signals a greater resistance to distemper. Distemper is a nasty virus that can start out with symptoms that don’t seem so bad, like coughing and lethargy, but it is usually fatal. Even animals that survive distemper are often neurologically damaged. In Yellowstone, about half of the wolf population is black. The researchers conclude this is because they live closer to human populations. Distemper doesn’t survive in wolf populations, so it has to be introduced by some other animal. Most other wolves in Yellowstone are gray. White is an unusual coat color in Yellowstone wolves. It appears wolves will chose mates based on their coat color, as if they know black wolves are better equipped to survive and can pass on the gene mutation to their young. Canine distemper outbreaks in Yellowstone have occurred at least three times. In 2008, almost one-third of the park’s pups were killed by an outbreak. To read more about the research, check out my story at https://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/yellowstones-black-wolves-better-at-fighting-canine-distemper-virus-study-shows/article_90803906-5c5f-11ed-82ea-bf0c947c59e0.html.
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