COLUMBIA — What a Howard County hunter took to be an unusually large coyote Tuesday may turn out to be more extraordinary and Halloween-worthy: it could turn out to be a wolf.
The man, who had a permit to hunt coyotes, was at Franklin Island Conservation Area when he shot the animal with a bow and arrow. He reported the kill to the Missouri Department of Conservation, thinking it could be a record-sized coyote.
But when agent Michael Abdon arrived on the scene, he realized it was probably not a coyote. "We are determining what it is and where it came from," he said. "There’s no way of knowing, but the first indication is that it may be a timber wolf.”
Tom Strother, Protection Regional Supervisor of the Department of Conservation, said that at 81 pounds, the animal was twice the size of a typical coyote. Coyotes are not uncommon in Missouri, while wolves are what the department calls an "extirpated species," which means they were once native to Missouri but were pushed out by development and hunting.
The species has not lived in Missouri since the late 1800s, and seeing one in the state, especially this far south, is rare.
"This is the farthest south that I’m aware of a wolf being here in Missouri," Strother said.
Abdon said because the animal is so uncommon in Missouri, the department had to ask another lab to identify it. "We don’t have anything to compare it to here so we are going to have to send the DNA samples off to northern states," he said.
It may be three to six months before the results are available. If the animal turns out to be a wolf, it would be the third wolf sighting in Missouri in the last 12 months.
Abdon said though there is no breeding population of wolves in Missouri, development and urbanization are increasingly pushing species from the North into southern habitats.
"They don’t do it for fun — they do it out of necessity," he said. "Something in their environment changed up north and they get pushed out of their own environment and search for a new place to go."
Strother said a lone wolf will not cause significant change to the environment, but its presence is still noteworthy.
"If anything, it will add to the diversity of wildlife species we might find in Missouri," he said.
He added that there's no need for alarm; the animal is not vicious and won't attack people. "It's just cool to talk about it and relive what used to be like in Missouri in the 1800s," he said.
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