We could be in for some deeply saddening news shortly as a northern gray wolf has been shot and killed in Utah, and wildlife groups fear that it could be the same animal that was spotted recently in the Grand Canyon - the first wolf seen in the area for 75 years.
The female, radio-collared gray wolf was shot dead by a hunter on December 28 near the south end of the Tushar Mountains near Beaver, south-western Utah, after being mistaken for a coyote. When the hunter realized that the animal was not a coyote, he immediately informed the Division of Wildlife Resources who then contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The federal agency then identified the animal as a three-year-old female that was fitted with a collar near Cody, Wyoming, at the beginning of the year. Although environmental groups are seriously concerned that this could be the lone wolf that had been recently sighted numerous times in the Grand Canyon, this cannot be confirmed until results from DNA tests come back.
Gray wolves were once common in Arizona, but they were almost wiped out in the 1930s and hadn’t been spotted in the Grand Canyon since 1939, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This is why conservationists and environmentalists were delighted when one lone ranger turned up in October near the North Rim of the famous landmark. Officials tried to catch the animal to replace the inoperative radio collar it was wearing, but failed. They did, however, manage to scrounge some DNA from its faeces, which revealed its identity as a female from the northern Rocky Mountains, more than 450 miles away. The wolf was later named “Echo” and was photographed several times on Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau.
Although gray wolves are no longer listed as an endangered species, they are federally protected in some states, including both Arizona and Utah. However, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) expressed its disappointment with federal officials for failing to protect them:
“Wolves are an endangered species in Utah, but the Justice Department has systematically failed to enforce the Endangered Species Act in respect to illegal shootings of animals supposedly mistaken for unprotected wildlife species; notwithstanding that a fundamental rule of firearm and hunter safety is never to pull the trigger without being 100% sure of the target.”
Coyotes are more common than gray wolves and are not a protected species. They are smaller than wolves, have pointier features and shorter legs, yet dozens of wolves have been shot by hunters claiming they misidentified the animal. As Michael Robinson from the CBD points out to Live Science, it would be worthwhile trying to educate people on what gray wolves look like and reinforcing that they are endangered, in an attempt to reduce future cases of mistaken identity.