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Gray Wolf

Scientific Name: Canis lupus

Status: Federally Endangered, State Endangered



The gray wolf ranges across Eurasia and in North America from the Arctic to Mexico and from coast to coast. Once distributed statewide, the wolf is gone from Colorado. The last ones were killed by about 1940. Sometimes called "timber wolf" (to distinguish it from the coyote, or "prairie wolf"), wolves actually occupy a wide range of habitats. Once wolves fed on the vast herds of bison, elk and deer, supplemented by rabbits, rodents and carrion.

When market hunters decimated the large mammals that were their staple diet, wolves naturally turned to a new food resource in the developing frontier: livestock. Because of their depredations of domestic animals, wolves in Colorado were systematically eradicated by shooting, trapping and poisoning.

Wolves are large dogs, up to five feet long (of which 14 inches is a bushy tail). The color is pale gray washed with buff and overlain on the back and legs with black.

Wolves den in burrows in banks where the female bears six to 10 pups in March after a nine-week gestation period. The male provides food for the nursing mother. A pair may have a hunting territory 10 square miles.

Proposals have been made to restore wolves to wilderness ecosystems of Colorado, where they could provide a natural check on populations of elk, for example. The suggestions have met with considerable opposition from some ranchers, however.

What is an Extirpated Species?

An extirpated species is an animal that no longer exists in the wild in its historical habitat, but still exists elsewhere. An example of a species extirpated in Colorado is the gray wolf. Although gray wolves no longer exist in the wilds of Colorado, they can be found in captivity in zoos and wildlife parks.

Have you seen a Wolf?

On February 16, 2007 district wildlife managers with the CPW were able to capture a brief video of a suspected wolf about 10 miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border north of Walden. Biologists and wolf specialists who have examined the video say the animal seen on tape looks and behaves like a wolf.

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