A rare gray wolf in Iowa, the first of its kind spotted in 89 years, was killed in February by a hunter who reportedly mistook the animal for a coyote, according to new DNA test results.
The 65-70 pound female wolf, which was shot and killed near Fairbank in northwest Buchanan County, was subsequently taken by the hunter to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources where a DNA test confirmed it was a wolf.
For years it was illegal to hunt and kill wolves, which were fully protected in the contiguous 48 states under the August 1974 Endangered Species Act. In 2009, however, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered and threatened list due to its population growth. Under Iowa state law, however, the gray wolf remains protected, The Gazette reported
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Despite its state protection, the state's Department of Natural Resources did not issue a citation to the unidentified hunter considering he mistakenly killed the animal and fully cooperated with authorities, NBC affiliate WHO-TV reported
Considering gray wolves have not been spotted in the wild in Iowa since 1925, experts believe the animal likely traveled south from Wisconsin or Minnesota, the latter of which having the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states, The Guardian noted
"I was surprised but not that surprised. Large animals can cover great distances, and state lines mean nothing to them," DNR furbearer specialist Vince Evelsizer told The Gazette, noting that other large predators such as black bears and mountain lions have also reemerged in small numbers in Iowa after having been exterminated from the state years earlier.
Since 2011, just over 2,500 gray wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in the lower 48 states, The Guardian reported. In total, there are believed to be about 6,000 wolves in the lower 48 up from an estimated 300 in 1974 when they were placed under protection via the Endangered Species Act.
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