Officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced earlier this week that there is evidence suggesting a wolf living somewhere in Siskiyou County. If this is true, it would only be California’s second visiting gray wolf in nearly 90 years.

In late 2011, a male wolf named OR-7 made headlines after it became the first wolf to enter The Golden State in nearly a century. OR-7 has since returned to Oregon, where he was born, and founded a new pack in the state’s southwestern Cascade Mountains. California officials say the new wolf may have been wandering around Siskiyou County for quite some time.

“Based on compelling information received earlier this year from Californians reporting they saw a large, dark-colored canid, CDFW deployed a number of remote trail cameras within southeastern Siskiyou County,” the agency said.

In May, one of the trail cameras finally picked up an image. It was of a large, dark-colored canid, exactly as residents claimed. The animal then disappeared and left behind sparse scat droppings, which proved to be so fragmented that biologists were unable to discern a conclusive DNA match. Based on the animal’s size and features, experts suspect the creature is in fact a wolf.

Then in June, biologists discovered a series of large canid tracks on a dirt road near an ongoing study of deer fawns. Researchers decided to leave a trail camera in the area and sure enough, on July 24 the camera captured the clearest images of the animal to date.

This overlay shows the size difference between a coyote (left) and what may be a wolf (right).
This overlay shows the size difference between a coyote (left) and what may be a wolf (right).

“Biologists believe that if the animal photographed on the trail camera is a wolf, then like OR7 in 2011, it is probably an animal that has dispersed from a pack in Oregon. Dispersing wolves generally attempt to join other packs, find a mate and carve out new territories within occupied habitat or form their own pack in unoccupied habitat,” the CDFW stated.

Wild wolves did have a native range in California but have been extirpated since 1924. Currently the state considers the animal a protected—but nonexistant—species, yet biologists say that wolves may one day return to the state.

“I think that wolves in California is an inevitability,” Jordan Traverso, CDFW spokesperson, told The Sacramento Bee. “It’s historic habitat for wolves. It’s suitable habitat for wolves.”

California has a small population of Mexican gray wolves, but bringing back their northern cousins is still a long way off. Strong support for the restoration of gray wolves in California by animal rights groups is also met by staunch opposition from landowners, ranchers, and rural residents who fear that wolves present an unnecessary danger. Traverso confirmed that CDFW currently has no plans to reintroduce the gray wolf, but the agency will also not prevent the animals from entering the state if they do so naturally.

For now, the only wild gray wolf in the state is this mysterious critter somewhere in Siskiyou County, if it is a wolf at all. Some say it is likely that the animal will follow into the footsteps of OR-7 and wander back into Oregon to join a pack.

Images courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife

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