NATIONAL NEWS

Gray wolves hadn’t been seen in south Michigan since the 1900s. This winter, a local hunter shot one

Apr 5, 2024, 8:49 AM

MARSHALL, Mich. (AP) — An animal a Michigan hunter thought was a big coyote when he shot it in January has been determined to be a gray wolf, the first time the species has been found in southern Michigan in more than a century, wildlife officials say.

The hunter shot the wolf in Calhoun County, in the southern reaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, while taking part in legal coyote hunting accompanied by a guide, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.

The man “said he encountered what was initially believed to be a large coyote” but it weighed 84 pounds (38 kilograms), which is significantly more than the 25 pounds (11 kilograms) to 40 pounds (18 kilograms) that Eastern coyotes typically weigh, the DNR said.

“A series of genetic tests on the harvested animal confirmed that it was a gray wolf, a species not sighted in that part of Michigan since the likely extirpation of wolves from the state in the early part of the 20th century,” the agency said Wednesday.

Gray wolves are currently confined “almost exclusively” to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the DNR said. The few instances of wolves being present in the state’s Lower Peninsula in the past two decades have been in the Lower Peninsula’s northern areas, the agency added.

“This is an unusual case, and the DNR is actively delving into the matter to learn more about this particular animal’s origin,” Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist who’s a large carnivore specialist, said in a news release. “While rare, instances of wolves traversing vast distances have been documented, including signs of wolves in recent decades in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.”

Roell said Friday that the DNR learned about the animal from social media posts in January touting it as “a world record coyote” but he said he was certain from photos posted online that it was a wolf. The agency obtained samples from the animal from a taxidermist soon afterward.

Roell said the DNR received genetic test results from two laboratories late last week confirming that it was a gray wolf and the agency seized the carcass from the taxidermist earlier this week.

“We seized all parts of the animal and I was told it would be in our diagnostic laboratory today,” he told The Associated Press.

Gray wolves are a protected species under the Endangered Species Act and they can be killed “only if they are a direct and immediate threat to human life,” Michigan’s DNR said.

Roell said the question of how the wolf ended up in southern Michigan remains under investigation by the DNR. He said he harbors “some doubt” that it ended up their naturally, noting that the area of Michigan where the animal was shot does not have habitat suitable for sustaining gray wolves.

“If this animal did indeed get naturally to Calhoun County it was likely just drifting, looking for others of its own kind,” he said.

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Gray wolves hadn’t been seen in south Michigan since the 1900s. This winter, a local hunter shot one