A gray wolf may be roaming the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and if that's confirmed, it would be the first wolf sighting in the park since the last one was killed three more than 70 years ago.
Photos of the animal, which show it wearing what seems to be an inactive radio collar, were recently taken by a park visitor.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are attempting to capture the animal, and if it's indeed a gray wolf, it would have traveled hundreds of miles south from the Northern Rockies, where the animals were reintroduced in the 1990s.
A subspecies of wolf known as the Mexican gray wolf is known to inhabit the area, but the photographed animal appears to be larger in size.
Any wolf roaming the Grand Canyon is protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Center For Biological Diversity (CBD) wants to publicize the sighting to prevent the animal from being mistaken for a coyote and possibly shot.
"Until determined otherwise, we're assuming that it may be an endangered wolf," Sherry Barrett, the wildlife service’s Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, said in an email to the CBD.
The animal has been spotted in the area for the past three weeks.
Until the most recent photos, there was suspicion the animal could also be a wolf-dog hybrid.
A park visitor reported losing a pet dog-wolf hybrid on the northern side of the canyon this summer; however, the pet wasn't wearing a radio collar.
The National Park Service hasn't been able to pick up any radio signals from the collar, but it's likely the battery could be dead.
While Congress has removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho, the animals are protected in other states.
However, this possible gray wolf sighting comes as the Obama administration considers a proposal to lift the Endangered Species Act protections for all wolves except the Mexican gray subspecies — even in states where wolves aren't known to be present.
Related on MNN:
- How much do you know about wolves?
- Oregon's famous wolf has at least 3 pups
- The big carnivores are in trouble — and that's no little thing