CAPE GIRARDEAU (AP) - A canine shot and killed by a southeast Missouri man in November has been identified as a wolf, a rare find that scientists call a migratory shift of the endangered species from the more populous Great Lakes states where it still thrives.
The Missouri Department of Conservation said Tuesday that tests by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the 80-pound female was a gray wolf, about 2 years old and similar to those from wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"Their suitable wolf habitat is occupied right now," said Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist in the department's Columbia office. "Animals can either try to elbow their way in or go find a new place to live."
The animal did not have a microchip, tag or tattoo to identify it as an escaped captive animal, so wildlife scientists relied on laboratory DNA testing.
An unidentified landowner contacted the state conservation department after he shot the animal. Beringer said he was not aware whether the federal agency planned to press charges on the hunter and noted that gray wolves can be mistaken for dog-wolf hybrids or even coyotes, their canine relatives.
Coyotes, considered by many a nuisance threat to pets and livestock, may be hunted year-round in Missouri. But the coyotes found in Missouri are typically around 30 pound, while wolves usually weight between 60 and 120 pounds.
Beringer said the agency has confirmed four wolf sightings in the past five years. The U.S. wolf population shrunk dramatically more than a century ago. Before the recent surge in Missouri, the last documented native wolf was killed in Taney County in 1950.