A wolf whose October sighting at the Grand Canyon, the first in decades, evoked elation among conservationists and wildlife experts may have been shot in Utah, according to reports.

Gray wolves had not been seen in that region since the 1940s, when they were wiped out in Arizona, and the photo snapped last fall by a visitor to Grand Canyon National Park showed a female wearing a radio collar. “Echo,” as the wolf came to be known, had apparently journeyed nearly 500 miles, through five states, from the Rocky Mountains to the north rim of the canyon. It was the first gray wolf to be seen in the Grand Canyon’s vicinity in 70 years.

But on December 28 a hunter in Utah, just over the border from Arizona, called authorities after shooting what he thought was a coyote, upon discovering the collar, Live Science reported. The collar showed the animal to be a three-year-old female that had been tagged in January in Wyoming, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Martinez told Reuters—matching the description of the animal seen in Grand Canyon National Park.

An investigation by U.S. and state conservation officers is underway to see if the hunter violated any federal or state wildlife laws, Reuters reported. Gray wolves are protected federally in both Utah and Arizona, as well as other states, though in 2013 the U.S. government caused controversy by proposing to delist the animals, relegating management of their endangered status to individual states. The New York Times reported earlier this month that a judge had thrown out a similar attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove them from the list in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, in the Great Lakes region.

Either way, this latest shooting, of a lone wolf that had strayed far from its original pack, highlighted the necessity of protecting the animals, conservationists said.

"This shows how vulnerable gray wolves are and how important real protection is," said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity to Live Science. "What we need is a response that follows the Endangered Species Act and prevents these kinds of occurrences from happening again. We think a thorough investigation is imperative."

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