CA’s run-through wolf found dead after record-breaking migration

LEBEC, CA – A brave male gray wolf – traveling farther south in Golden State than any other gray wolf in nearly a century – was found dead, wildlife officials said Wednesday.

The Oregon-born wolf was allegedly hit by a vehicle and was found by a truck driver who saw the dead wolf along a dirt path near a front road parallel to Interstate 5 in Kern County’s by Lebec, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement.

A state animal keeper responded on the spot to identify the wolf – named OR93 – by his collar.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in California, where they were exterminated in the 1920s. Officials said they did not suspect any fraudulent play in the wolf’s death.

Before his death, wildlife officials tracked OR93’s journey as he migrated to the far south of California since wolves returned to the state, which is historically a wolf habitat.

The last documented wolf seen far south was captured in San Bernardino County in 1922, wildlife officials said.

“I am devastated to hear of the death of this remarkable wolf whose epic journeys through California inspired the world,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

“In this year of reflection, I thank him for the hope he gave us and for a brief insight into what it would be like for wolves to roam wild and free again,” Weiss said.

From February to April 5, OR93 put at least 935 air miles across the state – at least 16 air miles a day, officials said.

From February to April 5, the wolf hit at least 935 air miles across the state – a minimum of 16 air miles a day, officials said.

His collar went dark on April 5, but October reports of a wolf found in northern Ventura County matched his description, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The annual gray wolf was first collared in June 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon.

In August, the CDFW received a May 15 report showing a collared gray wolf in southwestern Kern County that could have been OR-93, but his identity was not confirmed. If an opportunity presented itself, wildlife officials said they would try to recover and continue tracking the wolf.

The young male wolf first left its herd along the White River in June 2020, southeast of Mount Hood.

“Like many young wolves, he subsequently left his pack in search of new territory and / or a mate,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said in a statement.

Shortly after, he embarked on a 500-mile hike from Oregon to central Fresno County – every step rendered by his GPS collar.
OR-93 traveled from Mono County through parts of Tuolumne, Mariposa, Merced and Madera counties, the state agency said.
By the end of March, he had entered Fresno County and then moved to San Benito County. Experts believe he crossed two busy highways – Highway 99 and Interstate 5. He was tracked in Monterey on April 1st.

His journey marked the farthest south that any collared wolf has been tracked, and a signal that gray wolves may return to their native California. Gray wolves are rare in the Golden State these days, and they have not existed much since the 1920s.

His appearance in San Luis Obispo County also marked the first time in a century that a gray wolf trotted around the central coast of California.

Only about 12 gray wolves now roam California on their own. Since 2014, gray wolves have been federally listed as endangered, but with effect from January 1, these wolves were taken off the list by the Trump administration.

In California, gray wolves are still listed as endangered.

“It is illegal to harass, injure, persecute, hunt, shoot, injure, kill, capture or capture gray wolves,” according to the state.

It remains unclear why wolves decide to leave California, according to the state agency.

“There is no definitive answer,” according to the department. “Studies show that human activity can have a negative impact on wolf populations, especially where there are roads and agricultural activity.”

The agency added: “Wolves were probably killed to control predation on other animals. Other factors, including hunting, may have contributed to their extinction from California.”

Anyone who thinks they’ve seen a wolf in California can report it to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife here.

“Gray wolves pose very little safety risk to humans,” the department said.

Another gray wolf reportedly hit the dusty track on the heel of the OR-93 in May.

The newly tracked male gray wolf, OR-103, was tagged with a GPS collar in Deschutes County, Ore. and entered northeastern Siskiyou County on May 4, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Officials estimate he was born in 2019 or 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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