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Gray Wolf Found in Southern Michigan Despite Specie's Absence Since Early Last Century

Gray Wolf Killed in Michigan Despite Species Absence for 100 Years
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A gray wolf was shot and killed in southern Michigan, somewhere gray wolves have not been seen in 100 years, officials said.

Apr. 11 2024, Published 9:01 a.m. ET

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State officials in Michigan's Calhoun County have disclosed that a genetic examination has unveiled an unexpected discovery: an animal slain during a legal coyote hunt was, in fact, a gray wolf.

The perplexing revelation has left experts puzzled regarding how the wolf found its way into the region.

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Located in the southern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Calhoun County has not witnessed the presence of gray wolves (Canis lupus) for well over a century.

The nearest population of approximately 630 gray wolves resides some 250 miles away in the state's Upper Peninsula, with occasional sightings reported in the northern segment of the Lower Peninsula, approximately 130 miles from Calhoun County.

Brian Roell, a biologist specializing in large carnivores at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), acknowledged the rare nature of such incidents, citing documented cases of wolves covering considerable distances, including sporadic sightings in Michigan's Lower Peninsula in recent decades, Live Science reported.

The most recent documented sighting of a gray wolf in the northern Lower Peninsula dates back to 2014, when biologists from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians observed one on a trail camera during an eagle survey, approximately 220 miles north of Calhoun County.

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Nonetheless, the appearance of a gray wolf as far south as Calhoun County raises significant questions, prompting the DNR to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding its presence in the region.

The wolf in question was taken down during a lawful hunt in January, with the hunter reportedly mistaking it for a large coyote.

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Weighing in at 84 pounds, the animal's size far exceeded that of a western coyote (Canis latrans), being four times as heavy, and doubled the average weight of an eastern coyote — a hybrid species resulting from coyote and wolf interbreeding that emerged following the eradication of wolves in the early 20th century.

DNR experts have ruled out the possibility of the gray wolf belonging to an established population in the southern Lower Peninsula, assuring the public that there is no cause for alarm regarding a broader wolf presence in the region.

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"This is an unusual case, and the DNR is actively delving into the matter to learn more about this particular animal's origin," Roell said.

While wolves once roamed across the entirety of Michigan, relentless persecution by European settlers, compounded by a bounty established in 1838, drove the population out of the Lower Peninsula.

Despite facing threats such as intense logging in the early 20th century, the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula rebounded following the repeal of the bounty in 1960. Since 1973, wolves have been safeguarded under the federal Endangered Species Act.


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