Is This the First Gray Wolf Spotted in the Grand Canyon Since 1942?

Multiple sightings of the predator could mean the species is heading south.

(Photo: Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department)

Nov 4, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Visit the Grand Canyon these days, and you just might see a lone wolf amid the natural grandeur.

That’s if reports of a “wolf-like” animal roaming the Grand Canyon’s North Rim are accurate. From photos, it looks like a gray wolf, according to wildlife experts, and if that’s the case, it would be the first sighting of the imperiled species in the Grand Canyon area in more than 70 years.

“From the reports we’re getting, it looks to be a gray wolf, not a Mexican wolf or a hybridization,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona–based environmental group.

How can you tell? One of the big giveaways is the collar around its neck—which looks just like the radio collars placed on gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have tried to track the animal, but the collar doesn’t seem to be operating.

(Photo: Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department)


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Sherry Barrett, a wolf recovery coordinator for the FWS, said the only way to positively identify the animal is to conduct a DNA test, and that means either sampling its feces or trapping it to get a blood sample. A scat sample has been collected for analysis, and Barrett expects the results to come in by early next week.

“If it does end up being a gray wolf, it would be an interesting long-distance dispersal for the animal from the Rocky Mountain population,” Barrett said.

The Grand Canyon is within the historic range of the gray wolf, although today, the animal is relegated to the Northwest and Great Lakes regions. From the early 1900s to the 1940s, the wolf was nearly hunted to extinction. Today, thanks to reintroduction efforts and protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, the Rocky Mountain population has risen to 1,700 individuals.

With the animals' ability to travel long distances, it’s possible that one of the Rocky Mountain gray wolves has decided to head south through Utah to reach the north edge of the Grand Canyon.

In 2011, a gray wolf wearing a GPS collar was tracked meandering through Northern California, traveling more than 1,200 miles to become the first free-roaming gray wolf to step foot in the state in more than 90 years.

“There aren’t many habitats and prey bases left that can support a population of wolves, but scientists have identified the Grand Canyon as one of them,” Robinson said. “It could enhance the recovery of the species further.”