In what is being hailed as a milestone in the recovery of one of North America's most iconic species, a gray wolf has been confirmed to be living near the Grand Canyon in Arizona for the first time in about 70 years.
The lone female wolf had been photographed several times near the canyon's north rim in recent months, raising hopes that the predator, forced from the region early last century, had finally returned. In late November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected samples of the animal's droppings containing DNA, which genetic tests confirmed belonged to the endangered gray wolf.
"This is an exciting, historic development that affirms both the peer-reviewed science that identifies this area as excellent habitat for wolves and the need to maintain Endangered Species protections for wolves," Emily Renn of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project told the Grand Canyon News.
The wolf is believed to have traveled some 450 miles south from a population found in the Northern Rocky Mountains, possibly in search of a mate.
"This wolf has traveled a long way to get to Grand Canyon, a place that has been missing its wolves for decades," says Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter.
"You cannot help but feel hopeful when you see that despite many obstacles -- from roads and development to politics, this animal has made its way to a place, Grand Canyon, that is ideal for wolves, an area that has been repeatedly identified by scientists as a place where wolves should be restored. The message is clear, wolves belong at Grand Canyon."