“Federal officials recently confirmed that an animal taken by a hunter near Munfordville in Hart County on March 16 of 2013 is indeed a gray wolf,” according to the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services. (USFWS or FWS)
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Natural Resources along with the USFWS issued a release verifying that a Hart County predator hunter shot a federally endangered wolf.
A DNA analysis also stated that the animal’s genetic makeup resembled that of Great Lakes Region wolves. The KDFWR added that the animal’s teeth contained a large amount of plaque, meaning it more than likely had been in captivity.
Which begs the question — is it a wolf that spent time as a pet in Kentucky? Or does the Department really think it was truly a “free-ranging” wolf?
If it was, then how in the wide world of wolves did it get into Kentucky, you might ask? That’s what the hunter, who made a 100-yard shot, is wondering after he thought he’d put down another coyote. According to the press release, hunter James Troyer contacted a biologist from the KDFWR because the animal – at 73 pounds – appeared to be twice the size of a coyote.
According to the KKDFWR, this is the first free-ranging wolf documented in Kentucky in more than century.
Over in neighboring Missouri, a hunter shot an 83-pound wolf with a crossbow in November 2012, also mistaking it for a coyote. Missouri also hasn’t been home to wolves since the late 1800s.
It is against state and federal laws to possess a gray wolf, so the feds took the pelts.
This begs the question of how difficult it is to discern the difference between the two carnivores? And now, wait … there’s a new bark in the mix – as the coywolf emerges.
The Coywolf debate
It’s been circulating in predator hunting crowds that there’s this hybrid running in packs across the country, a coywolf. Biologists continue to research and debate this theory. If so, it will make it more difficult for hunters to identify their game before taking a shot and many more wildlife agencies will be called out to identify animals afterward.
David Suzuki, host of CBC’s “The Nature of Things,” based an episode last September on the revelation that Eastern coyotes and Great Lakes wolves have mixed. A coywolf has the skull of a coyote and the teeth of a wolf. Suzuki believes the coywolf inhabits the Eastern Seaboard, and is populating wolf country.
Lest we only hang our belief on a TV show, in October 2011, the “Journal of Mammalogy” reported that hybridization is a threat to the expansion of wolves in this country.
According to the journal, scientists analyzed scat found in a northern Virginia colony of coyotes and discovered one common DNA haplotype common to a wolf. (Think back to your biology class – a haplotype is set of determinants located on a single chromosome.) That nugget told them that wolves and coyotes had mixed. Scientists are concerned about coyotes breeding with endangered red wolves in the Southeast.
Since coyotes may grow gray fur, it is imperative that we, as hunters, learn to identify them before taking the final shot. In the meantime, it’s interesting to watch nature and the course it takes with hybridization, which is something none of us can control.