LOS ANGELES — Wolf advocates across the nation were brooding over the bad news this week: The epic journey of a lone gray wolf that ventured from Oregon to the very edge of Southern California’s crowded suburbs in search of territory and female mates had ended in a vehicle collision near Interstate 5 in the Kern County town of Lebec.
“OR-93’s relentless wandering gave us hope, inspiration and a brief glimpse at what it would be like to see wolves running free across California again,” said Amaroq Weiss, a spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity. “I only wish we could have offered him a safer world.”
California’s most adventurous wolf was found dead on the afternoon of Nov. 10 by a truck driver who noticed the carcass on a dirt trail near a frontage road running parallel to Interstate 5, officials said. A state game warden collected the remains, which were transported to the Wildlife Health Laboratory in Rancho Cordova, California, where the necropsy was performed.
A necropsy conducted on the carcass, which was found roughly 50 miles north of Los Angeles, determined that OR-93 had suffered “significant tissue trauma to the left rear leg, a dislocated knee and soft tissue trauma to the abdomen,” the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday. The agency also said it “determined the wolf died from trauma consistent with vehicle strike and does not suspect foul play.”
Pushed by an evolutionary gamble to pass off his genetic information to new generations of wolves in a region where they had not been seen for more than 200 years, OR-93’s record-breaking travels in California had signaled the potential return of a predatory force that some conservationists hoped would repair out-of-balance wildlands and make them more stable and diverse.
But it also increased the odds that OR-93 would wander into trouble on highways, in suburbs or on ranchlands where he might be mistaken for an unusually large coyote and trapped and shot as a threat to livestock.
Weiss was among wolf advocates and wolf haters alike who had been keeping their eyes peeled for an unusually large canine predator on the prowl since biologists lost track of the “pings” emitted by OR-93’s purple radio collar on April 5 in San Luis Obispo County, about a three-hour drive north of Los Angeles.
By then, state wildlife officials said, he had traveled at least 935 air miles in California, a minimum average of 16 miles per day.
Deepening the mystery was the fact that officials had not picked up a “mortality signal” from the collar, which would indicate the beast had stopped moving.
Only a week ago, Weiss hiked across a swath of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest near where a landowner’s trail camera recorded video footage of the wolf near a water trough in May.