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10 Unusual Wolves That Made The News

by Jana Louise Smit
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

On the surface, wolves follow a predictable life. They lounge in zoos or hunt in the wild to sustain their pack and rear pups. But these animals have more adventures, humor, and courage than we give them credit for.

Some of the best examples of their multi-layered existence come from news reports about individual wolves. From crimefighting clones to a wandering wolf that inspired a book, here are ten paw-some stories to read today.

Related: 10 Ambitious Projects Aimed at Resurrecting Extinct Animals

10 The Mystery Michigan Wolf: Shot as a “Coyote”

DNR: Gray wolf killed in Calhoun County

Early in 2024, a man was on a legal coyote hunt in southwest Michigan. Spotting what he thought was a large coyote, he shot and killed the animal. Upon closer inspection, he realized something was off and reported the incident to wildlife authorities. DNA testing confirmed it was a gray wolf, the first to step foot in the area in at least a century.

It’s a mystery how the animal appeared so far south. Michigan has an established gray wolf population, but they haunt the state’s Upper Peninsula, miles away. Any pack member from there would need to cross the Mackinac Bridge, the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world, to end up where the mystery wolf did.

Whether the wolf made the journey or came from elsewhere, experts believe this was a once-off. They do not expect wolves to move back to the southern Lower Peninsula, where they were hunted to extinction so many years ago.[1]

9 Unnamed Suspect Stole Surveillance Equipment

The Help Alberta Wildies Society (HAWS) is an organization that collects research on wild horses in Alberta, Canada. As part of their studies, HAWS placed trail cameras at different locations, and in 2023, one of the camera traps vanished.

The thief was a wolf. Caught red-pawed by another HAWS camera, the night-time footage showed the canine trotting off with the device in its jaws. There was a second wolf, but luckily for HAWS, it didn’t look twice at their surveillance equipment. The pair was duly identified as belonging to a pack of seven frequently passing through HAWS research areas.

It’s unclear why the wolf ripped the camera from its mount, but it was probably curious about the device. This theory is supported by the fact that the camera was found badly chewed, suggesting that the wolf didn’t abandon its loot for some time and either played with the object or tried to figure it out using its teeth.[2]

8 Soleil Ellen: Survived an Amputated Leg

Mexican wolf recovers from amputation at Living Desert zoo

In April 2023, a Mexican gray wolf arrived at the Living Desert Zoo and Garden in California. The three-year-old female, Soleil Ellen, joined a small pack of two males, and for about six months, things went smoothly. However, in November, she suffered a catastrophic accident in her enclosure.

Mexican gray wolves are known for being highly active, and they often enjoy rough games and acrobatic jumps. It was during one of these leaps that Soleil Ellen landed awkwardly and fractured her right front leg.

Euthanasia wasn’t an option, as Mexican gray wolves are among the rarest mammals in the world. Nor was a plaster cast, as it meant a lengthy recovery—something that would place enormous stress on the energetic wolf. The decision was made to amputate the leg, as the procedure would offer faster healing and the least mental suffering.

Veterinarians removed the leg, and after a few weeks, she was returned to the enclosure. Soleil Ellen embraced her new life as a tripod and quickly returned to splashing in the pond, running, climbing, and playing with the other wolves.[3]

7 2225 and 2323: Priceless Parents and Foster Family

Newborn Red Wolf Puppies | Secrets of the Zoo

Breeding pair 2225 (the mother) and 2323 (the father) are conservation heroes. As critically endangered red wolves, their kind was once extinct in the wild. However, these two wolves run free in a wildlife refuge in North Carolina and made history when they produced the first wild-born litter in five years.

The first batch of five pups arrived in 2022. When they were a year old, another litter of five joined the pack. Seeing that 2225 and 2323 were amazing parents and hoping to introduce more red wolves into the wild, conservationists added a zoo-born puppy to the new litter. He was promptly adopted and doted upon by the adults.

This 13-member pack of extremely rare wolves offers a fighting chance for their species, which has been teetering on the brink of extinction for years. Every generation born and raised in or released into the wild can increase their genetic diversity and numbers. The latter remains a concern as only about 30 wild individuals roam free, with another 270 red wolves in captivity.[4]

6 Wolf 907F: Yellowstone Record Breaker

Wolves saved Yellowstone National Park – The Northern Range

In 2024, a wolf in Yellowstone National Park hit the headlines after she had puppies. The mother’s age and her uninterrupted litter streak made this birth special. Called Wolf 907F, she reached sexual maturity at the age of 1, and every year after that, she produced a family. In 2024, Wolf 907F had her tenth litter at the grand old age of 11, which park services reckon is a record for Yellowstone.

The wolf is remarkable in other ways, too. Before the age of four, she lost one eye. Despite this, the cunning canine became the alpha female of the Junction Butte pack, a large group of gray wolves in the park’s Northern Range.

Her knack for survival and years of experience are probably why the pack is thriving. For example, she knows how to navigate conflict with rival packs, avoid humans, and safely cross roads. These days, Wolf 907F no longer hunts as much, preferring to hang out with the pack’s pups while the younger adults bring home the bacon.[5]

5 Tempest: Survived Vandalism That Killed Her Pack Mate

Wolves let loose at Greater Vancouver Zoo

In 2022, keepers at the Greater Vancouver Zoo arrived at the gray wolf pen when they saw something that made their stomachs drop. During the night, an intruder had deliberately cut the fence around the enclosure, allowing the zoo’s entire pack of nine wolves to escape.

Seven of the animals were duly captured and returned alive and well. However, Chia, the second oldest female, was found dead next to a road near the zoo. The three-year-old had likely been struck and killed by a passing vehicle. Or worse, left to die.

Once the tragic news reached the staff at the zoo, it increased their fear over the safety of the last missing wolf. Her name was Tempest, and she had been born at the facility a year before. With no real-world experience of roads and humans, there was a strong possibility that she could meet the same fate as Chia.

Thankfully, after searching for three days, search and rescue teams found Tempest uninjured and not too far away from the zoo.[6]

4 Maya: The World’s First Wolf Clone

Chinese scientists create “world’s first” cloned Arctic wolf | AFP

In 2022, a beagle gave birth in a laboratory in Beijing, China. She didn’t have a litter, just one pup, and it wasn’t a baby beagle—it was an Arctic wolf. This odd family marked a milestone in cloning and conservation.

Called Maya, the puppy was the first wolf clone ever born. Additionally, she marked the arrival of a strong player in the field of cloning, and that was private companies that clone pets for bereaved owners.

Cloning is expensive, and since it’s traditionally done by underfunded universities, it explains why animals aren’t cloned more often. However, private laboratories, like the one that created Maya, have more substantial coffers and the expertise to clone struggling species.

Sinogene Biotechnology Company took DNA from a female wolf, also called Maya, a Canadian-born wolf that was shipped to China in 2006 and died in 2021. This material was used to create 137 embryos, of which 85 were successfully implanted in dog surrogates. However, only one embryo was carried to term and became the new Maya.[7]

3 The Wanderer: Traveled 3,000 Miles in 6 Months

The Wanderer: An Alaska Wolf’s Final Journey with author Tom Walker

In 2010, biologists placed a GPS collar on a wolf. Tagged as Wolf 258, he was two or three years old and in good condition. The wolf, who was new to Alaska’s Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, seemed destined to stay as he had pair-bonded with a female from the reserve.

After a few months, Wolf 258’s mate died. This prompted him to leave the area again and embark on a journey so epic that it left wildlife experts in awe. People started calling him “The Wanderer, ” which inspired a book.

According to the collar’s GPS data, he stayed in his mate’s territory for three months. But on April 30, he went on the move. Heading north, The Wanderer traveled 25 miles (40 kilometers) or more every day, trotting across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and passing through the home range of hundreds of wolves without getting killed.

Something else killed him. On October 18, his collar emitted a “death” signal due to a lack of movement. Researchers found his emaciated body a mile away from the Dalton Highway, with nothing but a brown liquid and tapeworms in his stomach. After traveling nearly 3,000 miles across Alaska, the young wolf had finally succumbed to starvation.[8]

2 The Old Gray Guy: Revived an Entire Ecosystem

Wolves of Isle Royale: The Quest for Survival

By the 1990s, the gray wolf population of Isle Royale was sickly. The island’s isolation restricted their gene pool, and generations of inbreeding produced individuals with poor health and deformed spines.

This hampered their ability to hunt moose. Without predator control, the large herbivores multiplied prolifically, and grazing with an appetite as big as their size, they began decimating the forest ecosystem. This placed a severe strain on the island’s other species that depended on the trees.

In 1997, an ice bridge briefly connected the island with Canada. A single wolf took the opportunity to trot over to Isle Royale. It was a male, later called M93 or “The Old Gray Guy,” and he brought with him a priceless gift—genes unrelated to the wolves on Isle Royale.

Due to his unusually large size, he quickly took over one of the packs and provided them with lots of moose meat. Ultimately, he fathered 34 pups and greatly boosted the genetic health of the island’s wolves and their hunting success. The latter kept moose numbers in check, which, in turn, helped the trees to recover.

Unfortunately, the isolation impacted the wolves again. In 2019, only two wolves remained. Recent efforts have begun to bring more to the island, bypassing the need for the ice bridges that have been devastatingly affected by climate change.[9]

1 Kunxun: A Crimefighting Clone

Meet China’s first cloned police puppy

When Maya was born in 2022, she was the first clone of a full wolf. However, wolf-dog hybrids beat that record by four years. The story begins with a murder-sniffing canine called Huahuangma, a Kunming wolf-dog. This breed is used by Chinese police, and Huahuangma had such a nose for the job that she was referred to as a veritable “Sherlock Holmes.”

Her employer, the Yunnan Province police department, wanted more dogs that were exactly like Huahuangma. However, simply breeding their award-winning canine couldn’t ensure the puppies would inherit the same excellent sniffer ability and other genes that made Huahuangma such a great sleuth. The solution was cloning.

In 2018, Huahuangma’s first clone was born. The female puppy, Kunxun, was born at the Sinogene Biotechnology Company, the same laboratory that created Maya. Kunxun was 99.9% identical to Huahuangma, and when she was three months old, she already outperformed traditionally bred Kunming wolf-dogs. If all goes well in the future, Huahuangma clones could drastically reduce the five years and $60,000 invested in each dog’s training.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen
Jana Louise Smit

Jana earns her beans as a freelance writer and author. She wrote one book on a dare and hundreds of articles. Jana loves hunting down bizarre facts of science, nature and the human mind.

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