No one else was cleaning up after the large canine hanging around the North Kaibab National Forest near the Grand Canyon so U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists did.
The result was the confirmation of the first Rocky Mountain gray wolf — fully protected under the Endangered Species Act — in Arizona for more than seven decades.
Many speculated that the animal was a hybrid wolf/dog, but now that it has been confirmed as a female gray wolf, some wonder if it is the same wolf that spent time in Utah’s Uinta Mountains in late August to mid-September.
“This is wonderful news. This is probably the same wolf that was seen in the Uinta Mountains several weeks ago. If so, she has traveled from the U.S.- Canada border all the way to the Grand Canyon, passing through Utah on her way, and in doing so has shown that Utah is the natural home of wolves,” said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, based in Salt Lake City. “We should welcome her and future wolves home to Utah and let them live in peace.”
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Utah biologists say it is possible it could be the same wolf, but that it is unlikely.
Brian Maxfield, a wildlife conservation biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, exchanged howls with the Uintas wolf. He last picked up a radio signal from its collar on Sept. 19. That signal identified the wolf as a male that had the collar placed on it in the summer of 2013 in Idaho near the Canada border.
That male wolf had traveled at least 850 miles from its collaring location to the South Slope of the Uinta Mountains.
The gray wolf near the Grand Canyon was spotted in early October and is a female. Maxfield and Leslie McFarlane, mammals program coordinator for the Utah DWR, have studied the pictures of both animals and say the collars on each animal are also different.
The scat of the Grand Canyon wolf was collected on Nov. 2 and sent to the University of Idaho’s Laboratory for Ecological, Evolutionary and Conservation Genetics.
Biologists attempted to capture the canine to collect blood and replace the collar, but failed. Future capture efforts, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, will be to replace the collar. The wolf would be released if the collar is replaced.
“The DNA results indicate this wolf traveled at least 450 miles from an area in the northern Rocky Mountains to northern Arizona,” Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest Regional Director for the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release. “Wolves, particularly young wolves, can be quite nomadic, dispersing great distances across the landscape. Such behavior is not unusual for juveniles as they travel to find food or another mate.”
Officials say further DNA testing may allow the animal to be identified if a match can be made to a previously captured female. That analysis, the release says, could take several weeks to several months.
“This wolf’s epic journey through at least three Western states fits with what scientific studies have shown, namely that wolves could once again roam widely and that the Grand Canyon is one of the best places left for them,” Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a release. “It’s heartening this animal has been confirmed as a wolf but I am very worried that if wolves are taken off the endangered species list she will be killed and wolf howls from the North Rim’s pine forest will never again echo in the Grand Canyon.”