A large wolf-like creature shot and killed May 16 by a Montana rancher has wildlife officials scratching their heads as to what kind of animal it is.
After the animal came within several hundred yards of the rancher’s livestock near Denton, he shot it and reported it as required by law. The animal was a young, non-lactating female and a canid, a member of the dog family, which includes dogs, foxes, coyotes, and wolves.
Those facts are not unusual in Montana’s farm and ranch county.
The animal originally was reported as a wolf, but several Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ wolf specialists looked at photos of the animal and collectively doubted it was a purebred wolf: the canine teeth were too short, the front paws too small, and the claws on the front paw were too long.
Nevertheless, social media was quick to pronounce the animal as everything from a wolf to a wolf hybrid to something mythical.
Rather than guess, FWP sent the carcass to the Department’s lab in Bozeman where tissue samples will be collected, then shipped to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.
In a laboratory, scientists extract DNA from cells, looking for markers specific to individual species. Those markers are then compared to samples of known species on hand.
In a statement on Twitter, a spokesperson said the FWP strongly suspects it is a wolf dog hybrid.
Update on wolf-like animal shot bear Denton, Montana. pic.twitter.com/otvrPrIWD2
— Montana FWP (@MontanaFWP) May 25, 2018
Wolf and wolf-dog hybrid ownership by private citizens has long been a contentious issue in the United States. Often, potential hybrid owners overlook the important task of understanding the nature of the wild wolf and the domestic dog and become overwhelmed when their “pet” begins to show behavioral traits that are unexpected and unmanageable.
While the process may take a week, just getting to that stage may take weeks or months, depending on the laboratory’s backlog of cases. All of which means it may be awhile before anyone really knows what the rancher shot.