Arizona Game and Fish Dept.

It’s a match: genetic testing has unfortunately confirmed that the gray wolf shot in Utah on December 28 was indeed the same animal that recently appeared in the Grand Canyon for the first time in 70 years. The saddening announcement was made yesterday by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“The results were conclusive that it is the same wolf, identified by the Service as 914F,” the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) said in a press release.

Conservationists and nature lovers rejoiced last fall when a solo gray wolf was spotted roaming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The animal was identified by the FWS as a female, 914F, which had been radio-collared at the start of the year in Wyoming, but during her epic 700 kilometer (450 mile) journey the device stopped working and endeavors to catch her and replace it were fruitless. The wolf, which was later nicknamed Echo, was subsequently photographed several times on Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau.

The wolf’s sighting was momentous because the once common species was virtually eliminated by humans in Arizona in the ‘30s and hadn’t been seen around the famous landmark since 1939. Many also believed that her presence signaled the early stages of recovery of the species.

But things turned sour in late December when a gray wolf was shot dead by a hunter near Beaver, southwestern Utah, after he reportedly mistook the animal for a coyote. Wildlife groups feared that the animal, which was a radio-collared female, was the lone ranger from the Grand Canyon, but DNA analysis was required to confirm this. After a nail-biting month, scientists at the University of Idaho revealed that she matched samples obtained from feces last year.

Although the man who shot her, a Utah state-authorized coyote bounty hunter, claims it was a case of mistaken identity and contacted the FWS as soon as he realized, not everyone is convinced. “Echo had a collar around her neck. But I guess all coyotes in Utah have collars, right?” environmentalist Robin Silver told Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star Newspaper. “The hunter knew exactly what he was doing.”

The gray wolf is considered endangered in southern Utah and is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in both Arizona and Utah, so investigations into her killing will continue.

[Via US FWS, Las Vegas Review Journal and Science]

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