Covering more than 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) in just two years, the 4-year-old endangered female gray wolf known simply as OR-54 bounced between the borders of California and Oregon – averaging about 21 kilometers (13 miles) each day – in search of a mate or pack she could call family.
On February 5, she was found dead in northeastern California. The discovery comes after OR-54’s radio collar ceased functioning in December, according to a Wolf Management Update. No cause of death has been identified but officials say they are currently working on the case.
“We are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding OR-54’s death. We remind the public that killing a wolf is a potential crime and subject to serious penalties including imprisonment,” wrote the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in a statement.
OR-54 was fathered by OR-7, another Oregon-born gray wolf who headed south, spending his days roaming widely throughout northeastern California. In April 2013, he found a mate and returned home to Oregon, thus forming the Rogue Pack. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife put a tracking collar on the 38-kilogram (83-pound) wolf pup in 2017 before she crossed into California for the first time. During her roaming tenure, she spent time in Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, and Tehama counties – she even popped east to Nevada for a brief stint last year. OR-54’s travels represent the southernmost known wolf locations in the state since wolves returned to California in 2011.
“This is a tragic development for the early stages of wolf recovery in California,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Like her dad, the famous wolf OR-7 who came to California years ago, OR-54 was a beacon of hope who showed that wolves can return and flourish here. Her death is devastating, no matter the cause.”
Canis lupus was hunted nearly to extinction by the early 20th century. Today, populations roam freely in nine US states and are stable through much of the species’ current range, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The successful recovery has prompted groups to express support of taking the animal off the Federal Endangered Species Act that has protected it since 1974. Though gray wolf population rebounds are celebrated for ecological recovery, their growing presence presents issues for ranchers who see their livestock fall prey to wolves.
Today, fewer than a dozen wolves are believed to be present in California. The all-black Shasta pack was the first to establish itself and reproduce in the state in over a century, but disappeared in 2015 after just three years. Only one pup is known to have survived and DNA tests show that it left the state, the Sacramento Bee reported last year.