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Feds confirm Grand Canyon wolf shot in December

The wolf shot and killed by a hunter in Utah in late December was the same animal who had been spotted near the Grand Canyon — the first wolf seen in that part of Northern Arizona in 70 years. Federal officials announced the results of genetic testing Wednesday.

The female wolf was the same who was spotted several times roaming just north of the Grand Canyon, and who was radio-collared near Cody, Wyo., on Jan. 8, 2014.

The northern gray wolf was shot Dec. 28 in the Tushar Mountains outside of Beaver, Utah, about 200 miles north of the Grand Canyon and some 50 miles north of Cedar City.

The wolf, named "Echo" in an online naming contest, had been spotted near the North Rim several times. U.S. Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that the animal was a three-year-old female northern gray wolf that was collared in January 2014 near Cody, Wyo.

The hunter mistook the animal for a coyote, U.S. Fish and Wildlife said at the time. Once he realized that it was not a coyote, he contacted the Division of Wildlife Resources.

"The investigation into the killing of the wolf is still ongoing," said FWS spokesman Steve Segin in a news release. Gray wolves are classified as endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act in Utah.

An "extensive analysis" at the University of Idaho, comparing "the DNA from the wolf killed in Utah with samples taken from the wolf near the Grand Canyon," confirmed the dead wolf's identity, he said. "The results were conclusive that it is the same wolf, identified by the Service as 914F."

The wolf's killing is "a tragic reminder that we need to strengthen, not weaken, the Endangered Species Act and our public outreach efforts to protect these animals," said U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

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"The ESA exists to protect gray wolves and other vulnerable species and help them reestablish themselves in their natural habitats. Every time a gray wolf is killed – no matter where it happens – we lose another chance to return these beautiful animals to their natural role as part of a thriving North American ecosystem," he said.

"Unfortunately, gray wolves now inhabit just five percent of their historic range," said Grijalva, the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee.

“It’s heartbreaking that another far-wandering wolf has been cut down with a fatal gunshot,” Michael Robinson with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity said in December. "This female wolf could have helped wolves naturally recover in remote regions of Utah and neighboring states."

The wolf in Arizona was first spotted in early October, but it took until November to confirm that the animal was a gray wolf from the Northern Rockies.

While biologists were unable to capture the wolf for testing, DNA analysis of the wolf's scat showed that she was a member of the endangered species.

The wolf was first spotted north of Grand Canyon National Park in the North Kaibab National Forest, and was the first gray wolf known to be in the area for over 70 years.

The wolf's "epic journey through at least three western states fits with what scientific studies have shown, namely that wolves could once again roam widely and that the Grand Canyon is one of the best places left for them," said Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency permit earlier in November to allow researchers to capture and conduct DNA testing on the creature, which observers said resembled a gray wolf.

Officials with Fish and Wildlife, along with those from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and National Park Service, were unable to detect a radio signal from a collar worn by the animal.

Biologists "attempted to capture the animal to collect blood and replace the radio collar," said FWS spokesman Jeff Humphrey in November. "Those efforts were unsuccessful and have been suspended due to cold weather, as our primary concern is the welfare of this animal."

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Instead, the animal was confirmed to be a female Rocky Mountain gray wolf after testing was done on feces collected Nov. 2.

"The DNA results indicate this wolf traveled at least 450 miles from an area in the northern Rocky Mountains to northern Arizona," said Benjamin Tuggle, southwest regional director for FWS, in a late November news release. "Wolves, particularly young wolves, can be quite nomadic dispersing great distances across the landscape. Such behavior is not unusual for juveniles as they travel to find food or another mate."

Humphrey said that the "confirmation clarifies that this gray wolf is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act."

FWS officials proposed removing gray wolves from the endangered species list last year, with the exception of the Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies found in small numbers in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

The Grand Canyon wolf is not part of the population of Mexican wolves, FWS said.

It took nearly two months to announce that the canine spotted in Arizona is indeed a wolf.

The animal was photographed during the week of Oct. 5 by a turkey hunter who sent the photo to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Humphrey said earlier this month. The encounter happened near the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

Fish and Wildlife officials first attempted to identify the animal based on a tracking collar it was wearing, but the signal was too weak, Humphrey said.

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courtesy Samantha Bray and Sarah Nissen

A rare gray wolf — a species not seen in the area for 70 years — was captured in photos and videos by a pair of tourists Oct. 8.

Youtube Video

Exclusive wolf video

A pair of tourists from Virginia captured the female wolf roaming the North Rim in early October — with their video camera. A cross-country road trip found the two with a rare sighting: a wolf trotting alongside their car as they left Grand Canyon National Park.

Sarah Nissen and Samantha Bray, of Charlottesville, Va., were leaving the canyon Oct. 8 and had just driven past a sign at the edge of the park when they saw the animal running along the side of the road, Bray said.

The canine paced their car as she slowed to watch, she said.

"All of a sudden, on the left, we saw an animal running along," she said. "It had something in its mouth — maybe a snake — that it was shaking and playing with."

"I slowed down and it crossed the road in front of the car."

Bray and Nissen took several photos and video of the canine. Last month, officials confirmed that their sighting was of a rare wolf after viewing the video.

"That would be her," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey.

During their three-day visit to the canyon, Nissen and Bray attended a nature presentation where another park visitor said they had seen a wolf, Bray said.
"They showed a ranger a photo, and he said, 'we don't have wolves here. That's a healthy coyote,'" she said. "I didn't see the photo, but we didn't really think it was a wolf until we heard about the sighting."

After TucsonSentinel.com's report that officials had confirmed that the animal seen on the North Rim is indeed a gray wolf from the Rocky Mountains, Bray contacted us, sending photos and a short video clip.

"We saw a lot of animals on our trip," Bray said. "A fox in Death Valley, a lot of buffalo and bears at national parks. But this was definitely the most rare animal we saw."

As the pair watched from their car, the animal "cut in front like he didn't even know that the car was there."
The wolf then "trotted across a clearing to the treeline, where there were two large brown mounds — probably dead buffalo," Bray said.

Watching through binoculars, Bray and Nissen could "see the red of the meat" as the animal proceeded to eat, she said.