A panel of top scientists has concluded the endangered red wolf of the southeastern U.S. is a species unto itself.
The study by the National Academy of Sciences gives the beleaguered canine a scientific and political boost as its numbers plummet in the wild.
The panel also found the Mexican gray wolf of the U.S. southwest is a subspecies, which advocates say should support its conservation status.
The affirmation of the red wolves’ genetic uniqueness comes after some North Carolina officials pushed the government to abandon recovery efforts, arguing the animal is a coyote hybrid.
An estimated 35 wild red wolves remained as of late 2018. Their range has shrunk to five North Carolina counties.
Another wolf species, Western gray wolves, are thriving in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes.