A grey wolf, also known as a timber wolf, among the trees in a snowy wood. Photo by Photo by Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock
TUCSON, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Federal wildlife officials have confirmed that a wolf that appeared in Northern Arizona last autumn -- the first to appear in the Grand Canyon in 70 years -- was shot by hunter in Utah in December.
Late last year, the northern gray wolf had many local wildlife officials and park rangers befuddled. Hikers reported seeing the wolf for weeks (some capturing long-range photos) before biologists were finally able to confirm the wolf's identity via scat analysis.
When the wolf first showed up in Arizona's Kaibab National Forest -- and before testing confirmed otherwise -- park rangers suggested the roaming creature might be a wolf-dog or a coyote.
A coyote is what a hunter in Utah mistook the animal for in late December, when he fired on the wolf with a hunting rifle. Upon realizing the fatal mistake, he contacted Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources.
"It's heartbreaking that another far-wandering wolf has been cut down with a fatal gunshot," Michael Robinson, a conservationist with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, told the Tucson Sentinel. "This female wolf could have helped wolves naturally recover in remote regions of Utah and neighboring states."
The three-year-old female wolf was originally collared in January 2014 near Cody, Wyoming. After a remarkable journey south, trotting some 450 miles through parklands open for hunting season, she met the same fate that wolves so often do when they decide to wander from the pack and set out for new territory.
Gray wolves remain protected as an endangered species in Arizona, but federal authorities have removed their endangered status in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah.