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DNA test solves mystery of wolf-like creature shot in Montana

By CAITLIN O’KANE | CBS NEWS 

DNA tests confirmed the identity of this animal, which was shot by a rancher in Montana.

 

File – This undated file photo provided by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks shows a wolf-like animal that was shot on May 16, 2018, after it was spotted in a private pasture with livestock near Denton, Mont. The mystery is over: Montana wildlife officials confirm that an unusual-looking animal shot in central Montana was actually a wolf. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials initially weren’t certain what the creature was when a rancher shot it near Denton in May. They noted the legs, front claws and canine teeth were shorter and its ears bigger than normally seen on wolves. Officials said in a statement Monday, June 18, 2018, that an inspection of the animal at its wildlife health laboratory revealed it to be a relatively normal looking wolf. DNA tests confirmed that the animal was a gray wolf. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks via AP, File)

In May, a large wolf-like creature was shot by a rancher in Montana, and its identity puzzled local experts and social media users around the nation. Was it a wolf? An unusual bear? Some even started speculating about Bigfoot or a real-life dire wolf from “Game of Thrones.” A DNA test was ordered up to determine the animal’s true identity — and the results may be a disappointment for Bigfoot-hunters.

File – This undated file photo provided by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks shows a wolf-like animal that was shot on May 16, 2018, after it was spotted in a private pasture with livestock near Denton, Mont. The mystery is over: Montana wildlife officials confirm that an unusual-looking animal shot in central Montana was actually a wolf. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials initially weren’t certain what the creature was when a rancher shot it near Denton in May. They noted the legs, front claws and canine teeth were shorter and its ears bigger than normally seen on wolves. Officials said in a statement Monday, June 18, 2018, that an inspection of the animal at its wildlife health laboratory revealed it to be a relatively normal looking wolf. DNA tests confirmed that the animal was a gray wolf. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks via AP, File)

The animal was shot on a ranch outside Denton on May 16, but it looked as if it came out of the Ice Age. Photos taken by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) showed a raggedy wolf-like creature with some slightly unusual features. It had long grayish-brown fur, a large head and a snout; but its ears seemed larger than average, and its legs and body too short for a typical wolf.

“We have no idea what this was until we get a DNA report back,” Bruce Auchly, information manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told The Great Falls Tribune at the time.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service geneticist Mary Curtis says it’s not unusual for there to be physical variations of animals within a species. The animal is pictured above

Now, about a month later, the DNA results are in and the mystery has been solved once and for all.

“The canine creature shot in Montana a month ago that captured the curiosity of the nation is actually a gray wolf,” Montana FWP wrote in an announcement Monday.

“DNA from the animal … was tested at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. The lab compared the animal’s DNA with thousands of other DNA samples from wolves, coyotes and dogs,” the official state agency said. “The conclusion was clear — this animal is a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains.”

Montana FWP says confusion over the animal’s identity may have been caused by its appearance in the photos. It seemed to have short legs and big ears but inspection of the animal at the wildlife lab in Bozeman “revealed a relatively normal looking, dark brown wolf” Montana FWP says.

The wolf “measured 45 inches from the tip of the nose to the rump and weighed 84.5 pounds,” the announcement said. It is a non-lactating female, estimated to be between 2 and 3 years old. Mary Curtis, geneticist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says physical variations aren’t unusual for animals.

So the mysterious animal was actually just one of the approximately 900 wolves roaming Montana. At least the mystery is finally solved.

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