In what might be some of the saddest news you’ll read this week, an endangered wolf who walked nearly 9,000 miles to find a mate has died alone.
Known to Californian wildlife officials as ‘wolf OR-54’, the grey female was declared dead after her body was found last week in Shasta County.
The tragic announcement arrives just two years after the radio-collared canine made her way from Oregon to California, leaving many to hope that she might find a mate and lead the species to flourish in the state.
“When wolves get to one and a half or two years old, they are striking out from their birth pack, they are out there looking for mates and territory of their own,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“But the fact that OR-54 never found a mate and settled down gives us info that there aren’t a lot of wolves in that area.”
Weiss went on to explain: “This is a tragic development for the early stages of wolf recovery in California.
“Like her dad, the famous wolf OR-7 who came to California years ago, OR-54 was a beacon of hope who showed that wolves can return and flourish here. Her death is devastating, no matter the cause.”
The four-year-old mammal covered a whopping 8,712 miles of ground once she arrived in California back in early 2018, including portions of Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama counties.
As it stands, authorities have not confirmed a cause of death, but an investigation has been launched to establish whether she was illegally killed by poachers or died of natural causes.
“We hope OR-54 died a natural death and wasn’t killed illegally,” added Weiss.
“The return of wolves is a major environmental milestone in our state, and the vast majority of Californians want to see wolves recovered here.”
The species were wiped out at the turn of the 20th Century in a government-backed program to defend the livestock industry.
In 2011, OR-7 was the first wild wolf in nearly 90 years to arrive in California after travelling over from Oregon with several others later making the same trip.
Grey wolves, which pose little safety risk to humans, are now protected as endangered under both California and federal Endangered Species Acts.
The violation of these acts can lead to a year-long jail sentence and a $100,000 (£77,400) fine per person, showing the government is not taking the matter lightly.
Whether OR-54 died at the hand of a human or simply from natural causes is yet to be seen, but regardless it marks a sad time for the species – the day a lone wolf died without ever meeting her mate.