First Gray Wolf Sighted at the Grand Canyon in Decades Offers Hope

Several recent sightings of what’s believed to be a gray wolf at the Grand Canyon in Arizona have wolf advocates hopeful that its presence, which marks the first time one has been seen in the state in 70 years, is yet another a sign of recovery for this iconic species.

The lone wolf in question was first spotted in early October by visitors at the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon National Park and described as a wolf-like animal, but photos made public by the Center for Biological Diversity – in an attempt to ensure it wasn’t mistaken for a coyote and killed – have led wildlife and park officials to believe it’s a gray wolf.

While endangered Mexican gray wolves live in the area, the wolf who was spotted was larger and has the signature rounded ears of their relatives. It’s also wearing an inactive radio collar, which essentially rules out the possibility that it’s a wolf-dog hybrid, and has led wildlife officials to believe the wolf may have traveled all the way from the Northern Rockies.

Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said they’ll be DNA testing its feces for confirmation and further stated, “Until more is known about this animal, visitors to the area are cautioned that this may be a wolf from the northern Rocky Mountain population and is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. Our immediate concern is for the welfare of this animal.”

While gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the U.S., they’ve only returned to an estimated 10 percent of their historic range. They’ve been absent from the Grand Canyon region since the last one was killed in the 1940s making this one’s adventure a significant success for the species.

Like the story of Oregon’s lone wolf OR-7, this sighting has offered hope for conservationists and wolf advocates that wolves are continuing to expand their range and has raised more calls to continue federal protection. While we’ve had some victories in the West, they continue to face exactly the kind of persecution that led to federal protection in the first place.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that a wolf managed to travel so far to reclaim the Grand Canyon as a home for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This wolf’s journey starkly highlights the fact that wolf recovery is still in its infancy and that these important and magnificent animals continue to need Endangered Species Act protections.”

While this individual is still protected as an endangered species, a proposal to strip them of federal protection could change that and is still looming over their future. Losing protection would further threaten their ability to safely expand to new territories that are suitable for them, which their advocates believe is essential to their continued recovery.

“The possibility that a determined wolf could make it to the Canyon region is cause for celebration, and we must insist that every effort be taken to protect this brave wanderer,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.


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