A grey wolf shot dead in the Grand Canyon may have been the first of its species identified in the area in 70 years.
An unidentified hunter notified Utah wildlife officers after he killed a wolf equipped with a radio collar. According to officials, the hunter mistook the wolf for a coyote, which are common in the area and can also wear radio collars.
Wolves are illegal to kill without a special permit under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The incident is being investigated by wildlife officers as a possible violation of federal and state laws.
The wolf was a three-year-old female captured and collared in January 2014 in northwest Wyoming. Officials suspect it may be a wolf nicknamed Echo, which was spotted on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon in October and was found to have traveled hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies.
Echo was the first wolf spotted in the Grand Canyon since the 1940s, following a government eradication program. Testing to determine if Echo is the wolf that was killed could take weeks.
Officials said cases of mistaken identity can often occur during hunting. Regulations require hunters to properly identify their target before shooting, a skill that is introduced in most hunter education classes.
With wolves being unexpected in the area and similar in appearance to coyotes, authorities suspect the wolf killing was accidental. They have not yet announced if the hunter will face any charges.