Gray Wolf Confirmed

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A large canine killed by a group of coyote hunters near Spalding Dec. 15, 2002, has been identified as a pure gray wolf.

An investigation conducted by the National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., confirmed the animal originated from a population of wolves found in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“This is the first confirmed occurrence of a wolf in Nebraska since the early 1900s,” said Richard Bischof, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s furbearer and nongame mammal program manager. “We occasionally receive reports of possible wolves in Nebraska, but it is sometimes difficult to positively identify a wolf-like animal. Wolves and domestic dogs are the same species and readily inter-breed, resulting in wolf-dog offspring.”

Bischof said there are an estimated 300,000 captive wolves and wolf-dogs in the United States.

Wolves are native to Nebraska, according to Bischof, but they became extirpated due to destruction of their food source and the widespread use of poison, traps and shooting for fur harvest and population control. Recent efforts to restore wolves to part of their former range in the United States may result in further occasional immigration of individual animals or small groups into Nebraska.

“The Commission does not support the artificial release of wolves or wolf-dogs into the wild in Nebraska and has no wolf reintroduction plans,” Bischof said.

The dead wolf was confiscated by Conservation Officer Robert Kelly and then transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for examination.

FWS Office of Law Enforcement Special Agent Mark Webb said a criminal investigation is currently being conducted to determine the circumstances leading to the animal’s death.

Gray wolves have recently been down-listed by the FWS from “endangered” to “threatened” status, and are protected by the Threatened and Endangered Species Act and by Nebraska state law which make it unlawful to take a gray wolf.