The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) confirmed an animal taken by a hunter in Cherry Valley, Otsego County, during the 2021 coyote hunting season was a wolf. As part of DEC’s methodical, scientific assessment to ensure the accuracy of the species identification of the animal taken by the licensed hunter, DEC’s review of DNA test results returned this week allowed for a final determination that this animal was a wolf.
After initial DNA analysis completed this summer determined the wild canid to be most closely identified as an Eastern coyote, DNA submitted voluntarily by the hunter was sent for further analysis to Dr. Bridgett vonHoldt, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University as part of a joint research effort by multiple parties. DEC experts reviewed the vonHoldt DNA test results on Sept. 21 and determined the species is likely a male wolf. DEC is also evaluating additional steps to determine whether further research is needed.
This is the third confirmed wolf identified in the wild in New York in the past 25 years. Wolves are, and continue to be, protected in New York State as an endangered species.
At this time, the origin of this Otsego animal is unknown. DNA tests indicate the animal is most likely from the Great Lakes population of wolves, which currently have no established populations in any adjacent state and no known wolves closer than Michigan. It is unknown if this animal was a wild animal that moved into New York or if this was a captive-bred animal that was released or escaped. Captive wolves released into the wild in New York have been documented in the past.
New York is home to a well-established, self-sustaining population of Eastern coyotes. Eastern coyotes are distinguished from coyotes west of the Mississippi by being slightly larger in size (about 40 pounds, on average) and having a mix of coyote, wolf, and dog ancestry. Wolves are larger than both. Eastern coyotes are found throughout New York and populations are stable in most regions. At present, the natural recolonization of wolves in New York is unlikely. For a pack of wolves to be established in the state, breeding populations of female wolves would need to return to the state and breed with male wolves which typically roam farther from their packs. DEC will monitor for additional signs of wolf presence and encourages the public to report sightings of unusually large animals. In addition, DEC will continue to provide information to hunters and trappers on ways to distinguish between coyotes and wolves (leaves DEC website).
The siting of this wolf is a testament to New York State’s record of protecting habitat which has greatly benefited wildlife populations, as noted with the return of moose and the Great Lakes piping plover to suitable habitat within the state. DEC will continue to work with federal, state and local partners to advance additional conservation actions to continue to build a network of protected landscapes that provide habitat for threatened and endangered species in the state.
The most recent DNA results provided by Dr. vonHoldt and the earlier DNA results provided by Dr. Jane Huffman with the Wildlife Genetics Institute can be found at DEC’s website.