November 1, 2014
The endangered predator hasn’t lived in the region since the 1940s.
Efforts to track the animal spotted on Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau in recent weeks have been unsuccessful so far.
The chase is on to identify the “wolflike animal” that’s been spotted multiple times recently near the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
If the animal turns out to be a gray wolf, as some wildlife experts suspect—and hope—the sightings would mark the first time a gray wolf has been seen in the Grand Canyon area since the 1940s.
People nearly hunted the predator to extinction in the United States, where it had roamed across much of the country for centuries.
Several people have photographed the Grand Canyon canid, which is wearing some kind of collar, on Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau in recent weeks, just north of Grand Canyon National Park, according to the U.S. government.
If it’s not a gray wolf, it’s likely a Mexican gray wolf, which is a rarer subspecies, or a wolf-dog hybrid, says Jeff Humphrey, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region.
Any of those animals could wear a collar, but the mystery animal’s collar looks similar to those used in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where the gray wolf was reintroduced in 1995, according to a FWS press release.
Based on photographs, the animal also does not appear to be a Mexican wolf—which is smaller than a gray wolf.
The only way to definitively identify it, Humphrey told National Geographic, is to analyze the DNA in its poop—which the agency is doing now.
Until the analysis is complete, the government is asking the public to treat the creature like a gray wolf from the Northern Rocky Mountains, which is an endangered animal with federal protection.
Based on their recent rebound—there are now 1,700 gray wolves roaming the West after their population had been limited to the upper Midwest for decades—the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed taking the species off the Endangered Species List in 2013.
“Our first area of concern is the welfare of the animal,” Humphrey said, especially since the Grand Canyon is heavily visited.
Gray wolves are legendary for traveling long distances, and it’s feasible that an animal could have traveled from its home in Wyoming or another Rocky Mountain state through Utah and into Arizona, experts say.
At about two or two-and-a-half years of age, young wolves set out seeking new territory, often roaming far from their homes, said National Geographic Young Explorer Jay Simpson.
For several months this year, Simpson tracked a lone gray wolf, dubbed OR-7, through Oregon into California as part of the Wolf OR-7 Expedition.
Wearing a GPS collar, the young male traversed over 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) to become the first and only documented free-roaming wolf in California in nearly 90 years, according to the expedition website.
Based on the attention that the Fish and Wildlife Service is putting on the case, Simpson suspects the Grand Canyon animal is a gray wolf.
“It’s really exciting in the sense that wolves continue to display remarkable abilities—they continue to disperse to areas where they previously lived.”
If the Grand Canyon animal is a gray wolf that’s wearing a GPS collar, the collar must be out of batteries, since Humphrey said efforts to track it have been unsuccessful.
Simpson said collaring is crucial for understanding animal behavior—for instance, if the wolf did have a functional collar, it would reveal “invaluable data” about where it has been, including how the animal negotiated various terrain—and threats—through the Northern Rockies.
This article was published in National Geographic
Photo by AZ Game and Fish Department
Please express your support for wolf recovery with a letter to the editor. National Geographic does not have a letters section, but articles on the same topic have been published in multiple newspapers, which are listed below.
One short letter from you can influence decision-makers and thousands of your fellow citizens. Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.
Letter to the Editor Talking Points:
- Wolves were once native to this area but were extirpated by a federal extermination program in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. News of a possible wolf in this area after a more than 70 year absence is historic and cause for celebration.
- Gray wolves are currently federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in Arizona. If this is a wolf, its protection should be the highest priority.
- If confirmed, this is an example of what wolf recovery should look like: animals naturally dispersing to their historic habitat. Science has confirmed that there is great habitat in the Grand Canyon ecoregion, and a wolf’s presence on the north rim would be proof that the science is right.
- This reinforces how critical continued federal protections for gray wolves are right now. Because gray wolves are still federally protected in the majority of the continental USA, wolves would be able to safely migrate through one if not two states (CO and UT) to occupy some of their best available historic habitat.
- A national wolf delisting will remove these protections across most of the continental United States, giving states the authority to manage them as they see fit. With patchwork state protection for the species at best, and overt persecution of wolves at worst, continued wolf dispersal into unoccupied habitat would be dramatically hampered if not blocked altogether with the end of federal protections.
- Wolves from the north and south historically met, interbred and thrived in the Southern Rockies. Today there is an abundance of suitable wolf habitat in southern Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Make sure you:
- Thank the paper for publishing the article.
- Keep your letter brief, no more than 150-250 words.
- Make your letter personal. Don’t be afraid to use humor or personal stories. Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.”
- Provide your name, address, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
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