A hunter in Utah says he got a startling surprise this weekend after killing a coyote: The coyote turned out to be a gray wolf, a rarity in those parts. The hunter notified state wildlife authorities, who confirmed that he had indeed shot a 3-year-old female wolf near the city of Beaver. Though there's no way to be certain, it's believed to be the same wolf spotted near the Grand Canyon this fall, the first such visitor there in 70 years. Because gray wolves are protected in Utah, the hunter could face charges. "We are still investigating, but it seems initially that it was a case of mistaken identity," a state official tells the Salt Lake City Tribune.
The wolf had been wearing a tracking collar that had been placed around her neck in Cody, Wyoming, in January of this year. The best guess is that she then split from her pack and wandered more than 500 miles south. "This shows how vulnerable gray wolves are and how important real protection is," an official with the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona tells LiveScience. "What we need is a response that follows the Endangered Species Act and prevents these kinds of occurrences from happening again." (Another tale of a wandering wolf had a happier ending.)