MONTANA – A large wolf-like animal shot and killed May 16 by a rancher near Denton has wildlife officials and the public wondering what it was.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the animal came within several hundred yards of the ranchers livestock. He shot it and reported it, as required by law. The animal was a young, non-lactating female and a canid, a member of the dog family, which includes dogs, foxes, coyotes, and wolves.
Those facts are not unusual in Montanas farm and ranch county, says FWP.
The animal originally was reported as a wolf, but several FWP wolf specialists looked at photos of the animal and collectively doubted it was a purebred wolf: the canine teeth were too short, the front paws too small and the claws on the front paw were too long.
Nevertheless, according to FWP, many people on social media and some news sources were quick to pronounce the animal as everything from a wolf to a wolf hybrid, something mythical, and "mysterious wolf-like creature."
FWP spokesman Bruce Auchly says that rather than speculate about what it is, FWP sent the carcass to the agency’s lab in Bozeman where tissue samples will be collected, and then shipped to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.
In a laboratory, scientists extract DNA from cells, looking for markers specific to individual species. Those markers are then compared to samples of known species on hand.
While the process may take a week, just getting to that stage may take weeks or months, depending on the laboratorys backlog of cases.
A press release from FWP concludes: "All of which means it may be awhile before the anyone really knows what the animal near Denton really was."