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Those wolves that were seen in Nevada? They weren’t wolves

Updated May 15, 2024 - 7:38 pm

The wonder of an unconfirmed sighting of a gray wolf pack that could have marked the return of the species to Nevada was cut short when genetic testing revealed they weren’t wolves at all.

Rather, the animals that wildlife officials spotted near Merritt Mountain in Elko County were coyotes, a common sight across the Silver State in both rural and urban settings.

Two independent genetic labs found that the hair, fecal and urine samples collected from the scene in early March were a 99.9 percent match for coyotes, the Nevada Department of Wildlife said.

The last time a wolf was seen in Nevada was 2017. Prior to that, one hadn’t been spotted in the state since 1922.

“We understand the significance of such sightings and the importance of accurate identification,” NDOW director Alan Jenne said in a statement.

Scientists spotted the coyotes when taking stock of Nevada’s moose population, and the state agency was working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a plan to ensure the wolf pack’s safety if the animals turned out to be wolves and stayed within state borders.

Federally, gray wolves became endangered in 1974, when only about 600 of them still roamed the lower 48 states. Though Nevada wildlife officials said the state isn’t known to be historic wolf habitat, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates there could have been upward of 2 million of them when European settlers arrived in North America.

“We appreciate the diligence of our biologists, assisting laboratory personnel and the public’s cooperation throughout this process and we will continue to monitor the area for any indication of wolf presence,” Jenne said in a statement.

Contact Alan Halaly at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on X.

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