Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have confirmed that the animal spotted near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a gray wolf. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it’s the first of its kind to be seen in the area in more than 70 years.
Wildlife managers say the female Rocky Mountain gray wolf traveled at least 450 miles from its original population. She is wearing an inactive radio collar suggesting she came from as far as Idaho, Wyoming or Montana. It’s the first sighting near the North Rim since the animals were eradicated in northern Arizona in the 1930s.
Emily Renn is the executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project. She says though it’s rare for wolves to successfully disperse such a long distance, it’s not impossible.
“She had to have crossed highways, roads and inhospitable landscapes with private property and places that really aren’t very friendly to wolves to find this excellent habitat,” Renn says.
Renn says this could be the beginning of a resurgence of the animals in the area.
“Wolves are considered a keystone species in ecosystems. And it just overall just makes ecosystems more resilient to change by having all of their key components still in place,” Renn says.
Biologists confirmed the animal’s species through DNA analysis of its scat. Gray wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.