Last week, a visitor to the Grand Canyon National park photographed what appears to be a lone gray wolf wearing a radio collar, hanging out near the canyon’s north rim. If the animal is truly a gray wolf, and not the Mexican subspecies or a wolf-dog hybrid, then it would be the first sighted in the national park since the last one was killed 70 years ago, Reuters reports.
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity alerted Reuters to the wolf’s presence in the hopes that publicity would prevent hunters from shooting it, Jeremy Hance writes for Mongabay. "This already occurred earlier this year: the first wolf to return to Iowa after a 89-year absence was quickly shot dead by a hunter who thought it was a coyote," Hance writes.
The animal’s radio collar is inactive, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using other methods to confirm if it is a gray wolf. A feces sample should do the trick, reports Megan Gannon for Lifescience. The animal appears bulkier and has more compact ears than Mexican wolves typically do. Also, wolf advocate Michael Robinson told the Washington Post that signs of a wolf-dog hybrid—such as a curved tail—aren’t apparent.
Lone wolves have traveled as far as 600 miles, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The closest breeding population of gray wolves lives south of Yellowstone National Park, just about that distance from the north rim. "This wolf's journey starkly highlights the fact that wolf recovery is still in its infancy and that these important and magnificent animals continue to need Endangered Species Act protections," Robinson said in a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity.
The sighting hits a tender nerve for conservationists, wolf advocates and people who live where the wolf packs roam. Debate over wolf hunts and whether federal protections for the top predator should persist remains fierce. But if this Grand Canyon animal is a wolf, it could be facing a life of celebrity status. When male gray wolf OR-7 left his home pack in Oregon and crossed into California, he gained a Twitter following and an upcoming documentary. And although he returned to Oregon to find a mate (they sired at least two pups this year), he remains famous.
Already, OR-7’s Twitter account has offered help to the Arizona animal (Kaibab National Forest borders the north rim of the Grand Canyon):
Can someone in Arizona drop off a smartphone to the Kaibab canid for me? #TwitterTutorialTime— WolfOR7 (@WolfOR7) November 4, 2014
I am ready to give the Kaibab canid Twitter lessons whenever the time is right. #StandingBy— WolfOR7 (@WolfOR7) November 3, 2014