The canine creature shot in Montana a month ago that captured the curiosity of the nation is actually a gray wolf.
DNA from the animal, which was shot legally by a rancher near Denton on May 16, was tested at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic laboratory in Ashland, Ore. The lab compared the animal’s DNA with thousands of other DNA samples from wolves, coyotes and dogs. The conclusion was clear – this animal is a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains.
Confusion about the animal might be due to the condition of the animal and the photos, which seemed to show short legs and big ears. Inspection of the animal at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife health lab in Bozeman revealed a relatively normal looking, dark brown wolf.
Physical variations aren’t unusual for animals, said Mary Curtis, geneticist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Within species there can be variability that’s not surprising at all,” Curtis said.
The wolf was a non-lactating female, which means she didn’t have a litter of pups. However, any unique physical features she has might also appear in her siblings or parents and may continue to be passed along by others in her family. The wolf measured 45 inches from the tip of the nose to the rump and weighed 84.5 pounds. It’s estimated that the wolf was between 2 and 3 years old.
Wolves are fairly common in Montana. According to the 2017 Montana Gray Wolf Program Annual Report, population estimates suggest there are approximately 900 wolves in Montana. This marks the 13th consecutive year that Montana has far exceeded wolf recovery goals.
Property owners in Montana have broad legal authority to shoot wolves they feel might be a threat to their livestock, as was the case with this wolf near Denton.