Friday, March 31, 2006

Tests to determine whether carcass is that of wolf

By Kevin Woster, Rapid City Journal Staff Writer

South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department officials aren't quite ready to cry "wolf" about a large canine carcass found last week along Interstate 90 near Sturgis. The carcass was turned over Monday to GF&P officials in Rapid City by a motorist who had seen it in the median near Black Hills National Cemetery a few days earlier, GF&P regional supervisor Mike Kintigh said Wednesday.

"It's a very large canine. It's big enough to be a wolf, and it's got the general features of a wolf. But we just don't know if it's a wolf or a dog or what," Kintigh said. "I know there are a lot of domesticated wolf-bred dogs in the area. It could have been somebody's pet."

Kintigh said his staff gave the animal to an officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who will send it to a federal laboratory in Oregon for genetic analysis. If that testing determines the animal is a wolf, it also could identify its geographic origins, Kintigh said. "With the baseline data they have in place about wolf populations elsewhere, they can pretty accurately tell where it comes from," he said.

Although native to South Dakota, viable wolf populations were killed off by settlers during the development of non-Indian towns, farms and ranches. Occasionally, wolves have traveled into South Dakota from existing populations in Wyoming, Montana and Minnesota.

"We have wolves on both sides of us, so getting some in the state running around isn't impossible," Kintigh said. "The last one I'm aware of was in Harding County in 2001. And they determined that was a wolf from Minnesota."

Sometimes, what people report to be wolves are actually wolf-like dogs, Kintigh said. "You'll get out there and see the animal, and it has a collar on," he said. "We haven't had any reports of wolves in the area for six or eight months."

The carcass turned in Monday was male and weighed 113 pounds. It was dark gray to black in color with a white spot on its chest. Kintigh said he had not received any reports of wolf sightings before this, nor had he heard of the escape of any captive wolves or part-wolf dogs.

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