Monday, February 27, 2006

No gray areas: Wolves still rare in Illinois

Sightings are likely single animals that have broken off from packs in other states.

By Mike Wiser

ROCKFORD — Officially, Illinois is wolf-free. Semi-officially, you might — maybe, if you’re really, really lucky — spot one around these parts. Gray wolf populations have steadily risen since the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act which protects wolves in all states with some exceptions in Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where they are most plentiful. They number well into the hundreds in Wisconsin, but so far there haven’t been any recorded living in Illinois since the 1800s.

Unless, of course, you count that one shot in Marshall County, just north of Peoria, in December 2002. Or that one that likely traveled this way before it was shot in October 1999 in Grundy County, Mo. Or that one that was killed by traffic about a year ago in Lake County, Ill.

“Are there wolves in Illinois? Yes,” said Richard Benning, youth educator and naturalist at Severson Dells Nature Center southwest of Rockford, who hosted a 90-minute talk on gray wolves Sunday for a standing-room-only crowd of about 50 people.

“Are there wolf packs? No. Not that we know of,” Benning said.

A pack is defined as a reproducing male and female. And so far, the wolves that have turned up in this state in the past 100 years or so have been single animals. The theory is that these animals were wolves that broke off from an existing pack to start their own pack.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, whose biologists have tracked wolf populations since 1979 using radio telemetry, snow track surveys, and collection of reports of wolf observations, gray wolves have come back strong in the past 20 years. In the first years of the study, wolves numbered in the mid-to-high 20s. As of last year, biologists estimate there are 425 to 455 wolves in 108 packs and 14 loners in Wisconsin. Although most of the wolves are in the state’s northern areas, some have been spotted as far south as Waukesha County.

So what if wolves make a comeback in Illinois? Or what if you’re camping in Wisconsin, Minnesota or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Is there a reason to be alarmed?

No, Benning said. “There’s never been a case of a healthy wolf killing a human being, although there is one incident in the Saskatchewan Province of Canada that is under review and might change that,” he said. A person has a better chance of getting struck by lightning than being attacked by a wolf, he said. “They run away from humans. ... Biologists will go into wolf dens and take the pups and the mother will just whimper,” Benning said.

Instead, if there are wolves in the area, don’t fret. Go outside and listen intently. You might be in for a treat, like the one Rockfordian Steven Kreitlow got when he heard a wolf howl while camping with a friend in the 1970s at Isle Royal National Park.

“It is beautiful and it raises the hair on the back of your neck,” said Kreitlow, who attended the lecture Sunday. “It was like a symphony. There were six of them going at different times. ... It was beautiful and eerie at the same time.”

  • Rockford Register Star

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I moved to Illinois from Ohio where coyotes are plentiful and seen often.

    I have seen coyotes here, but is it possible that there might be a wolf in the Geneseo and Cambridge Illinois area?

    I've seen the animal three times with two of the three being within the last two week at 6:40 a.m. in the same area. (Once at a farm that has several sheep.)

    I have talked to two other people that believe that they have seen a wolf also.

    It might be half wolf, but I am sure it isn't dog or a coyote.


    2/27/2007 1:30 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I have seen a gray wolf in Willow Springs for sure on 7/17/08. I live
    in a heavly wooded area and this was no coyote.

    7/19/2008 12:21 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I live in Peoria, IL also in a heavily wooded area and mostly on full-moons I hear the wolves calling - the reason I even came across this website was because I heard them last night (full moon 10/14/08) and wanted to know what each sound meant - there were pups, too.

    10/15/2008 12:39 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I was walking in the woods with two of my dogs in Streamwood Illinois and came upon a wolf on the path. I screamed at it and it started to come towards me. I turned and ran with my dogs. That wolf followed us all the way out of the woods to the street. What should you do in a situation like that? I don't want my dogs or myself to get hurt.

    11/01/2008 7:04 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I had a big dark gray/black wolf run right in front of my truck, in the middle of oct 2008. It was around 12:00 pm and only 50 feet away from me. There are wolfs in Antioch IL. Very body thinks I'm crazy. I heard there are wolf's and pup's in the Chain O Lakes Park. Now I believe it.

    11/20/2008 6:22 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Im a hunter and have seen a lot of coyotes over the years (some up close and personal). tonight on my way from Warrenville to S. Elgin I saw what I thought were 2 coyotes running in a field. When they crossed Roosevelt rd. just past Fabyan pkwy and into an open field, I saw there were 4 very, very large coyotes (not). I made a fawn in distress call to peak there interest and they all stopped to look. There is not doubt in my mind that judgeing by there size that they were wolves. I only wonder if these are the wolves from up in lake county.

    12/06/2008 8:50 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I saw a small pack of something crossing Route 45 just north of 111th Street in Palos Park in mid November. They were moving fast and my first thought as I hit my car's breaks was 'those are not coyotes'. They were bigger and moved differently. They were also in a hurry. My best guess in the dark was 4 to 7 animals. This is an area of forest preserves to the west and north and a community college to the east; residental area is just south.

    12/06/2008 9:10 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Wolf in the area of Homer.Just had one in my mothers back yard 12/25/08 13:30.
    Beautiful animal!

    12/25/2008 2:21 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Yes and welcome hope I see you soon .Recently moved from northern Mn. and miss you.ACB

    1/09/2009 2:27 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    On 1/10/09 I saw a pair of wolves in my backyard in Rockford Illinois. Judging from the size of my own dogs, I'd say the male weighed at least 80 lbs. I have been told this is impossible, but I know what I saw...

    1/13/2009 1:51 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    On November 3th in a business building complex of Lake Forest Illinois, I saw what I think was a wolf. At first I thought it was a huge coyote. It was standing still looking toward the street in a nearby field. I saw it first thing Monday from the 2nd floor window of the building I work in. I summoned a collegue to witness this and he said he thought it was a German Shepard. Then the animal started to trot north along the lawn in front of our building, I summoned my collegue again to show him this was no german shepard. My collegue looked again and indicated he agreed, and said it looked like a wolf. I said its just a very large coyote, but thought of what my collegue said later, and began thinking it was a wolf, because even though it was pretty slender for a wolf it was very tall and had more of a rounded muzzle.

    1/15/2009 2:51 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    January 17th thoughtI saw a coyote southeast of Ill. tollway and route 59. I was driving and got a closer look at the face and noticed stripes around the eyes and mouth and thought it might be a wolf. Very beautiful animal. Too pretty to have been a coyote.

    1/18/2009 6:39 PM  
    Blogger Julie said...

    We also saw what we are sure was a wolf near I-88 on Sunday, Jan. 17th. It must be the same animal. We saw it in a front yard, near a forest preserve, off Warrenville Rd. in unincorporated Naperville.

    1/22/2009 11:01 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    My son & I were driving west on Il rt 90 between Princeville & IL rt. 78 around midnight on Jan. 31, 2009. We saw 2 very large gray & white animals on the south side of the road. My son said it all, "if we weren't driving in central Illinois, I would have said look at those wolves". They certainly weren't coyotes which we see all the time.

    2/02/2009 7:52 AM  
    Anonymous Kurt said...

    At 6:58 PM on Friday, March 20,2009 I have seen a gray wolf in the Burlington Woods Forest Preserve behind my house (not far from Downtown Naperville, basically behind Naperville North High School and on the south side of the Burligton-Northern Railroad tracks) I also saw a wolf in the same Preserve approx. 2 months ago. Based on the e-mail from Julie on 1/22/2009 it could be the same wolf she saw as the Dupage River runs throughout this area... it's approx. 500-600 yards from where I saw the wolf. It WAS NOT a coyote, it WAS a wolf. I zoomed in with my highpowered binocs and enjoyed the sight. Kurt @

    3/20/2009 7:18 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...


    4/01/2009 1:43 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I saw a wolf in my backyard in Century Farms which is south of I-88, north of Ogden Ave. in Naperville on 4-15-09 at around noon in rain. It was rather large and looked like it had just given birth. I have not seen or heard of anyone else in my area that has seen a wolf. It was gray, without black, had a sharp muzzle and pointed ears. It was sniffing around our playset and in my garden. I thought it was one of our neighbors dogs and was about to get it to see if our neighbors dogs had run loose. On closer inspection from behind a window, it proved to be a large female gray wolf which seemed to need to feed her pups but had no following her. Would her pups be dead, lost or in the den?

    5/16/2009 9:30 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I live outside of Chillicothe anda couple weeks ago I was out riding my atv I came around a corner in a field and came across what looked like a wolf. I was about 20 yards away and am pretty sure it was one. It looked at me and trotted off into the woods. Last night I heard a lone wolf howl.

    8/19/2009 11:59 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I live in Lake County, Illinois in a remote section of the Barrington area. I have seen dozens of coyotes over the years. Last night my dog was going ballistic barking at an object off the patio window and I looked out to see what appeared to be a small deer moving along side an outbuilding on our property (we have many deer on our property). I ran outside without shoes or camera to see what it was. When I got outside I stood 20 yards from two almost waist high (I am a 6'5 male) canines. At first I thought they may be two domestic dogs that escaped. I started whistling and calling them. They completely ignored me as if I wasn't even there. As they got closer I could tell they were bigger than any domestic dog and much bigger than any coyote I had ever seen. Their tales were perpindicular to the ground, not down like a coyotes. The 2nd animal followed nearly step for step the 1st animal as they sniffed along the side of the outbuilding moving closer to me. !

    As they
    moved closer I got a very clear look at the animals which was when I got a firm feeling that these were not domestic dogs. My gut is telling me with 95% certainty and reinforced by the extensive research I have done via audobon society and other resources that these two animals were timber wolves.

    9/04/2009 11:06 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    We live NE of Rockford, and right next to Rock Cut State Park. We have coyotes and the occasional fox, but last winter, Jan 2009, we found a few foot prints near our barn that were definately not our dogs prints. We have two big Dobermans, and one has very big feet, but this print made theirs look small. It was the width of the print that was so shocking.

    The kid, 6'2", who works on our farm took a picture of it with his hand next to it, to show a comparison. It was amazing really, I felt emotional and yet, cautious. We have small dogs to, and cats and horses, but we also have loads of deer, turkeys, groundhogs, possums, etc. So a wolf would have plenty to eat and a lot of cover here.

    We still haven't seen a wolf, but have heard howling once. it's quite distinctive from the coyotes howl and short high yip.

    10/09/2009 11:41 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I was running in Rock Cut State park and it gets to be very remote and wild in some parts of that park. I was a mile from any assistance, near the horse camp and somthing barked and came at me aggressively. It never showed itself through the scrub but it was a very big canine. It doesn't make sense to think that it was a dog- that is why I am interested in the other comments here.

    10/23/2009 10:22 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Tonight, Dec. 9, 2009, 7PM, my dog was barking while looking outside. As I looked outside I saw two large wild animals, bigger than a fox or coyote, not red, but black and grey or white. We live in Burr Ridge in a subdivision just off of Plainfield Rd. and County Line Road. I went on the internet to find a picture that looked like these two animals. Is it possible that it was a Mexican Wolf or a Lone Wolf? Anyone else see them?

    12/09/2009 10:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    in response to the burr ridge resident, i also live in burr ridge and i think in the same subdivision...on sat am, around 8:30am, i took the dog outside and out of nowhere, a very large animal (gray in color) appeared in my backyard right in front of the barrier wall to the expressway. As i went to grab the dog, another one came out of nowhere. i notified the village, police, and cook county.

    12/14/2009 10:15 AM  
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    1/08/2010 11:22 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    1-19-2010 this morning at about 7:20 A.M. a gray wolf ran right in front of my car; on the Elgin High school, school grounds. It clearly came down a hill through a wooded area, ran directly in front of my car; then ran up through another wooded area. This was not a coyote, it was much to big and thick. It ran in a crouched and leaping motion extremely fast.

    1/19/2010 10:05 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    We have a patch of woods as our backyard. This morning we spotted 3 wolves, 2 medium sized ones, and a much larger one. They were so close!!! We have heard them howling with ambulance sirens. It is amazing, but scary! We have 2 young children whom we will never let outside alone after seeing these wolves!!!

    1/31/2010 12:19 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    We saw a lone gray wolf in our back yard. We live at the Jerseyville/Godfrey border off Route 3. I sat by our trampoline for a moment, then trotted off into the woods. We have a 60-pound dog, and it was at least as large as that, if not larger.

    2/19/2010 3:32 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    We think we have a lone wolf living in our wooded area near our horse farm south of Charleston. There is a sheep farm nearby. We also have lots of coyotes, so we know this is not one. It is at least 75 lbs, as big as our golden retriever and wanders out of the woods into the horse pasture, foraging in the snow patches. It does not have a narrow muzzle like a coyote, but is clearly wild, and does not move like a dog. Our dog went after it today and it barely responded to our shouts, just gradually trotting off. Our dog smelled him and tracked him into the field a ways before he saw it. His tail is bushy and straight, and body color is red/blackish and wheat colored. Twice the size of our ubiquitous coyotes. I saw it through field glasses, and yes,beautiful, but scary.

    2/27/2010 8:49 AM  
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    3/20/2010 12:28 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I saw a gray wolf this morning 8/18/2010 in Lombard by 22nd and Finley.

    8/18/2010 9:22 PM  
    Blogger MsPichuTheOverlord said...

    I'm doing a research project and I'm using your info to fill a whole page about wolves!!!!!!

    11/10/2010 4:30 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I saw a Wolf near 103rd. near Olive Harvey Collage off the Bishop Ford at about 10:00 AM Wednesday Dec.1. I spotted it when driving to my daughters school to pick her up because she was having a toothach. My wife was on the phone with me when I spotted it. It looked like my Siberian Husky but it had colors of a wild animal. Brown ,gray and white around the neck. It was alone and didn't stay very long. When I told my wife what I saw I pulled my camera out to take a shot. Pulling my car backwards to the area I saw the wolf it had taken off immediately. I know what I saw because I told my wife I saw Shiloh but a wild one. Shiloh being my Husky.

    12/01/2010 5:24 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Driving from Chicago to E.Dubuque, Il on November 29th, 2010 at around 3 A.M. a very large,dark, long haired animal bounded across the highway about 50 feet in front of our car. There was no doubt that this animal was a wolf. I judged it's overall length at around 7 feet and a weight of 150 to 175 lbs. I have seen many coyotes and many german shephards, this was neither, it was a wolf! This sighting was about 5 miles south of Galena, Il. Later the DNR confirmed that there are single wolves in JoeDavies County. Friends of mine, living along the river have spotted several wolves in the area over the past few years.

    12/04/2010 10:25 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I believe I saw a wolf by route 30 approx. 5 miles south of Shabbona Park outside Paw Paw by a cemetery, about two months ago. It was very awesome and I am excited if they are back in Illinois. Watch your little puppies people.

    12/07/2010 4:21 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    For the past 2 wks an animal, larger than a coyote has made its circuit through our back yard and into the wetlands. It's about the size of a german shepard with a long bushy tail. Coloring is brownish and has a wide head vs. the snouty, pointed look of a coyote. Not a domesticated dog. The last time I saw a similar animal was about 2-3 yrs ago, also in the later winter. After looking at photos these animals look like timberwolves. I live in Lake County-Long Grove IL

    1/16/2013 7:28 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I believe ive herd them in jersyville but have yet too see 1

    3/18/2013 2:05 AM  
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    5/04/2013 9:32 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Haven't seen any recent comments but I doubt its because the wolves all left. What happened?

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