Gray wolves were exterminated from Arizona in the 1940s. There has not been any wolf sightings in the state, until now.
In October, a lone wolf was spotted on numerous occasions near the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Wildlife officials are trying to determine is this is indeed a gray wolf or it is a wolf-dog hybrid. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been collecting feces samples for testing to determine the exact species of this animal.
There had not been a wolf sighting in Arizona in 70 years.
The wolf that has been roaming around the park seems to be wearing a radio collar, however nobody has been able to detect its signal so it is thought to be inactive. If the wolf did come from Wyoming, near the Yellowstone National Park where wolves have been radio collared in the past, it would have traveled hundreds of miles to get to Arizona.
Wolves were aggressively killed in the early part of the 20th century to a near point of extinction. Only small populations in Minnesota and Michigan existed in the United States for many years. In 1970, wolves received protection under the Endangered Species Act and conservation efforts were initiated. There are now over 5,000 gray wolves in the United States including Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
There have been Mexican wolves introduced in Arizona and New Mexico in the recent past, however the wolf spotted near the Grand Canyon does not have the typical characteristics of the Mexican wolf and none were known to have been radio-collared.
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This would not be the first wandering male wolf in this decade. In 2012, a radio-collared gray wolf in Oregon traveled to California, making him the first gray wolf in the state in 87 years. This individual went back and forth from Oregon to California several times according to tracking records from the collar.
Californians were hopeful that the state could once again become home to wild gray wolves. Arizonians may have similar hopes for the gray wolf that is currently hanging around the Grand Canyon. Wandering wolves have historically run into problems. In 2009, a wolf that traveled from Montana to Colorado was ultimately killed by poison.
Recently, wolves in several areas were de-listed from the Endangered Species Act and limited hunting opportunities for them were opened. Some people feel hunting will once again reduce the populations.
Wherever wolves are found, they do take a huge toll on deer, elk and moose as well as the occasional livestock. A balance between management and coexistence needs to be met, but is easier said than done.