Wildlife groups believe the wolf spotted at the Grand Canyon this year was shot and killed by a hunter. KPNX-TV, Phoenix
An animal seen north of the Grand Canyon on Oct 27, 2014.(Photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
PHOENIX — The federally protected female wolf seen last month near the Grand Canyon may have been shot and killed in southwestern Utah on Sunday, wildlife groups fear.
If that's true, the first northern gray wolf seen in northern Arizona in 70 years has been lost.
A hunter shot the radio-collared animal over the weekend in the Tushar Mountains outside of Beaver, Utah, according to a release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The mountains are about 200 miles north of the Grand Canyon.
The hunter mistook the animal for a coyote, the agency said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not confirmed the wolf's identity. But the Utah agency said the federal service identified the animal as a 3-year-old, female northern gray wolf. She was collared last January in Wyoming.
That description and the wolf's location means she was likely the Grand Canyon wanderer, said Michael Robinson, wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
That wolf, first seen in northern Arizona in October, has has been celebrated by conservationists as a symbol of hope for the species' recovery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the wolf traveled at least 450 miles to reach northern Arizona and was likely looking for food or a mate.
"Justice should be done for this animal," Robinson said. "This shouldn't just be brushed under the rug.">
An animal seen north of Grand Canyon on Oct 27, 2014. (Photo: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
Conservationists were early advocates for the radio-collared animal spotted and photographed by visitors and hunters on the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon National Park.
State wildlife agencies worked together to track the animal after they discovered its radio collar was dead. They were originally unsure if it was a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid.
In November, a genetic test on the animal's scat showed it was the first Rocky Mountain gray wolf seen in the area since the 1940s.
Attempts to replace the wolf's tracking collar were unsuccessful, though the agency said DNA tests could confirm its identity from previously captured wolves.
Gray wolves were once common in the area but disappeared in the early 1900s after being hunted and killed. Robinson said last month that the wolf's presence proved the Grand Canyon was still a suitable environment for the species.
Sunday's death — whether or not it's the same wolf — is a setback, he said.
"Whether it was persecution or recklessness, it highlights that wolves still need protection," he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is calling for a full investigation into the Sunday shooting.
Conservation officials are still reviewing the case, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.