After traveling thousands of miles over a couple of years, OR-7 — Oregon’s most famous gray wolf — may have found a mate.
Wildlife officials captured several images of a female wolf in the Cascade Range near where OR-7's GPS collar shows him to be.
If the pair spawned pups, they're the first breeding wolves in the Cascades since the early 1900s.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist John Stephenson said it is likely the wolves mated and are rearing pups, but officials won't start looking for a den until June to avoid endangering the young animals.
"It's amazing that he appears to have found a mate," he told The Associated Press. "I didn't think it would happen. It makes me more impressed with the ability of wolves to survive and find one another."
Wolves leave their pack when they're about 3 years old and strike out to find a mate and start a new pack.
Since he left his pack in northeastern Oregon in September 2011, OR-7 has traveled thousands of miles through northern California and Oregon but has not had a mate.
Wildlife officials expect the battery in OR-7's collar to die soon, so they have installed cameras near his recent whereabouts. GPS information shows that the wolf has been staying in a smaller area, which means OR-7 could be staying close to feed pups.
Stephenson said officials had planned to let OR-7's collar battery die, but now that he might have found a mate, they plan to fit him with a new collar this summer so they can monitor his pack.
Endangered Species Act protections for wolves have been lifted in eastern Oregon, but they remain in the Cascades where OR-7 is.
As gray wolf populations have rebounded elsewhere in the United States, protections have ended and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested lifting protections elsewhere in the nation.
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