Oct 31, 2014 04:37 PM EDT
It's a photo worth a thousand words, and one of a near impossible candidate. Captured in the national forest near Grand Canyon National Park, authorities revealed Thursday Oct. 30 that a collared endangered gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains may be roaming the lands. A species that environmentalists and national park officials haven't seen since the 1940's when the gray wolf was driven to extinction in the area.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, Jeff Humphrey, says that the "wolf-like creature" has been reported and photographed several times since it first arrived three weeks ago in the Kaibab National Forest, however, local officials have yet to confirm it is the rare species. Potentially a wolf-dog hybrid, researchers originally investigated reports, but as growing photographic evidence and reports detail the creature more clearly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed to environmental groups that they are on the lookout for a lone gray wolf.
While federal officials have yet to identify the exact individual, as they are working to collect enough trace evidence to analyze its DNA, they have confirmed that its collar is similar to those use in the northern Rocky Mountain wolf recovery effort, ruling out it being a different species of Mexican wolf.
"Until determined otherwise, we're assuming that it may be an endangered [gray] wolf" recovery coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Sherry Barrett says.
However, further conclusive evidence will be obtained once authorities are able to analyze its specific DNA. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman, Charna Lefton told reporters Thursday that the service is sending a team of specialists to the canyon area where the wolf was first seen, to attempt to capture it and equip it with a new radio collar. The service confirms that traps will be set within the next 48 hours, and DNA analysis will be able to positively identify the species after samples have been collected.
Earlier this morning National Park Service and Game & Fish officials flew over the area where the animal was photographed, however no radio signals from the collar were able to be tracked.
"That means the animal is either not from the wolf recovery project or, more likely, the battery is just dead" field supervisor Steve Spangle says.
While conservation advocates and environmental groups almost immediately disclosed the presence of the wolf, in an effort to bring attention to the canine so that hunters do not make a fatal mistake, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has kept secret for weeks. And the service says that it was irresponsible for the conservation groups to say the creature is a wolf, until it is positively identified with DNA evidence.
"A statement like that has no value till we wait a short time to capture and ID it" Jim DeVos, of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, says. "Certainly the presence of a true gray wolf is important. That's why we need to go capture it and take a tissue sample, and that's why we have not made a big deal out of it."
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