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Update: Wolf Killed in Utah Was From Grand Canyon Sighting

Feb 12, 2015 03:43 PM EST

It is officially confirmed. The gray wolf accidentally killed by a hunter in Utah recently was from the rare Grand Canyon sighting, according to reports.

The 3-year-old female wolf, who had since been nicknamed "Echo," was the pride and joy of conservationists everywhere because it was the first wolf seen near the Grand Canyon in 70 years. Wildlife advocates had hoped this was a sign that the endangered gray wolf was a species on its way to recovery.

Now all their hopes have been dashed after DNA tests confirmed that the wolf killed in late December by a Utah hunter, who thought he was targeting a coyote, was the very same one spotted near the national park's North Rim in Arizona.

According to The Associated Press (AP), geneticists at the University of Idaho compared DNA taken from the northern gray wolf killed in southwestern Utah with Echo's scat samples found near the Grand Canyon last fall.

The unidentified hunter in question is part of an ongoing investigation into the incident, and could possibly face penalties for killing the animal.

Despite the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources saying it was an accident, some heartbroken advocates are more adamant than others that he still faces punishment for his crime.

"Wolves and coyotes are distinguishable if one pauses for a second before pulling a trigger," Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity told the AP. "There are consequences for pulling the trigger when you don't know what you're aiming at. It's important to have justice for this animal."

Gray wolves, whose protection status is still fiercely under debate, were once found throughout all of North America. After being hunted to near extinction within the last century, they now number around 7,000-11,200 in Alaska, 3,700 in the Great Lakes region and 1,675 in the Northern Rockies, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

What's more, these wolves were completely wiped out from Arizona in the 1940s, which is why the lone wolf sighting near the North Rim was a national phenomenon.

And now with this latest tragedy coming to light, the fate of the species is once again in the spotlight, causing concern among conservationists.

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

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