Analysis shows animal shot near the Adirondacks ate a wild diet
By Mike Lynch
Tests performed by state scientists have determined that the wolf killed in Otsego County in December 2021 ate a wild diet.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Museum performed the test that analyzed elements in the wolf’s hair, bone, and teeth.
“Based on the principle ‘you are what you eat,’ the carbon and nitrogen isotopes found in an animal’s fur and bones can show the type of diet an animal has had throughout its life,” stated the DEC’s Facebook page Tuesday.
Canines raised in captivity often eat a diet consisting of commercial dog food or grain-fed livestock. As a result, they have different isotope ratios than a canine eating a wild diet, according to the DEC.
But the test wasn’t definitive proof the 85-pound wolf was wild, according to the DEC.
“There is no way to ‘definitively’ determine wild versus captive in this case with the materials available,” DEC told the Explorer. “The full set of results leads DEC to conclude that this wolf was most likely either a wild wolf that has traveled to New York or a captive wolf fed almost exclusively with wild game (roadkill or hunted).”
Renee Seacor, a carnivore conservation advocate for Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute, agreed this test wasn’t 100% proof the animal was wild, but it is more evidence that likely was the case.
“It’s just kind of another layer of data that shows the likelihood that this animal was a wild wolf, and not a captive animal,” said Renee Seacor, a New York-based carnivore conservation advocate for Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute, national organizations based in California and New Mexico. “And it kind of further confirmed the work that we’re doing to push the DEC and the state agencies to provide proper protections for dispersing wolves in the region.”
Gray wolves are protected under both the federal Endangered Species Act and New York’s endangered and threatened species regulations. At the time of the killing, wolves were not federally protected. The DEC didn’t penalize the deer hunter, who shot the gray wolf in Cherry Valley and later said he believed it was a coyote.
Cherry Valley is 25 miles south of the Adirondack Park, which studies have shown has 6,000 square miles of wolf habitat.
According to the Maine Wolf Coalition, the animal killed in Cherry Valley was the latest of at least 11 reported wolves known to have been killed south of the St. Lawrence River since 1993. These include wolves killed in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec.
Wildlife advocates have been pushing New York and other northeastern states to better protect coyotes and canids that could potentially be dispersing wolves.
Populations of wolves, which can travel hundreds of miles, live just 60 miles north of the New York state border. The closest U.S. population lives in Michigan.
In the field, it can be difficult to tell the difference between coyotes and wolves, especially smaller eastern wolves that have populations north of New York in Canada.
The advocates want a ban on coyote-hunting contests in New York, more hunter education, new protocols for reporting possible wolf sightings from the public, and more accountability for killing coyotes. Right now, hunters don’t have to report when they kill a coyote.
The advocates also are advocating for a ban on night hunting of coyotes, bag limits, and a shorter season. In addition, they want a two-year canid hunting moratorium where a wolf has been documented.
The DEC said it “will monitor for any future possible wolves, or wolf hybrids, and examine them to determine if they are possible escaped captives or dispersing wild animals just like we did in this case.”
In addition, the department issued educational materials in its hunting guide, included in its hunting and trapping newsletters, and on its website.
The test of the Cherry Valley wolf was the most recent for the animal. After photos of the animal were posted on social media, John Glowa, who heads the Maine Wolf Coalition, noticed it and contacted the hunter. Glowa arranged for fellow wolf advocate Joe Butera, president of the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society, to obtain DNA for testing.
The DEC originally said in the summer of 2022 was most “closely identified as an Eastern coyote,” with a mix of coyote, wolf, and dog genetics. That determination was based on a genetic test performed by Wildlife Genetics Institute at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, which was hired by the state.
DEC later changed course and said the animal was a wolf after genetic tests from Trent University in Canada and then Princeton University determined that the canid was a wolf. Both tests came from DNA material submitted by Butera and paid for by wildlife advocates.
The animal’s remains are with at a taxidermist in Otsego County, who is preparing them to be displayed at the New York State Museum in Albany. The skull will also be brought there.
This story was updated on March 16.