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Grand Canyon's Lone Gray Wolf Possibly Shot Dead

Dec 31, 2014 09:40 AM EST

Conservationists rejoiced back in October when a gray wolf was spotted at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a hopeful sign that this endangered species was on its way to recovery. But now saddening reports indicate that this lone wolf may have been shot dead Sunday, ending its famous 500-mile (800-kilometer) journey across the West.

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, a hunter in Utah mistakenly shot a northern gray wolf thinking it was a coyote near the south end of the Tushar Mountains near Beaver, Utah. After alerting state officials, who then contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency confirmed that the animal was a 3-year-old female gray wolf that had been fitted with a GPS collar near Cody, Wyoming, earlier this year.

Only DNA tests will confirm that the slain wolf is the same as the one spotted at the Grand Canyon a few months ago, which marked the first sighting of this species in the national park in 70 years.

"This was a worry of ours," Michael Robinson, with the Center for Biological Diversity, told Live Science. "Personally, I'm very saddened by it."

Gray wolves were once common throughout all of North America, but were hunted to near extinction over the last century. There are now an estimated 7,000-11,200 gray wolves in Alaska, 3,700 in the Great Lakes region and 1,675 in the Northern Rockies, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

Not to mention that gray wolves were wiped out from Arizona in the 1940s, which is why the lone wolf sighting near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon made headline news.

Despite their dismal numbers, gray wolves have been removed from the endangered species list, and are even legally hunted in some areas (albeit now without prize rewards in the state of California). The debate continues, man versus wolf, over their protection status. Livestock owners try to keep wolves from preying on their valuable herds, while conservationists struggle to save wolf populations. And this latest tragedy, even if it's not the Grand Canyon gray wolf, goes to show that it's so easy for this species to reach near extinction once again.

"This shows how vulnerable gray wolves are and how important real protection is," Robinson told 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."

It's not clear yet whether the hunter will face any charges for his actions.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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