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Gray wolf dies in Kern County after traversing California

gray wolf OR-93

A gray wolf tentatively identified as OR-93, who traveled south from Oregon early this year, was spotted in southwestern Kern County on May 15.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Wednesday an endangered male gray wolf that made a rare trip through southwest Kern County in May, garnering national headlines for his travels, was found dead Nov. 10 near Lebec.

Named OR93 by wildlife officials, the wolf died from trauma consistent with a vehicle’s strike, according to an investigation and necropsy cited in a CDFW news release. The department does not suspect foul play.

“I’m devastated to learn of the death of this remarkable wolf,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “His epic travels across California inspired the world.”

A truck driver called the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife the afternoon of Nov. 10 after spotting a deceased wolf near a frontage road parallel to Interstate 5, the CDFW news release noted.

A CDFW warden went to the scene and identified the gray wolf as OR93 due to its collar. The animal suffered significant tissue trauma to the left rear leg, a dislocated knee and soft tissue trauma to the abdomen, according to a necropsy completed at the Wildlife Health Laboratory in Rancho Cordova.

“I only wish we’d been able to provide him with a safer world,” Weiss said. “California has to do so much more to preserve wildlife connectivity and protect animals like OR-93 from car strikes.”

OR93 prowled into Southern California in 2021. These counties — including Kern County — had not witnessed a gray wolf’s presence since 1922, the CDFW reported.

OR93 was born in 2019. He dispersed from the White River pack, located south of Mt. Hood in northern Oregon. OR93 designates the gray wolf’s status as the 93rd wolf collared in Oregon, said Jordan Traverso, the deputy director of communications, education and outreach for the CDFW.

Oregon wildlife officials attached a collar onto him shortly after his first birthday, Weiss said.

The device tracked his movements into Modoc County, California on Jan. 30, 2021. From there, the wolf trotted back into Oregon briefly and then returned to Modoc County on Feb. 4.

He roamed along California counties bordering Nevada, before padding inland to Amador and Calaveras counties. By late March, OR93 prowled into Fresno County and arrived at San Benito County after crossing Highway 99 and I-5.

“Those are major artery freeways for any wildlife to cross,” Traverso said, adding this feat is remarkable.

His last collar transmission emitted from San Luis Obispo County on April 5, the CDFW said.

A Kern County landowner checked a trail camera on his private property and discovered the wolf padded through around May 15. Some sightings of the wolf were also made in Ventura County in late September, Weiss said in a news release.

In total, the approximately 2-year-old animal traveled 935 air miles in California, or 16 air miles per day throughout April 5. Air miles are calculated on a map — not the actual distance the wolf trotted. Most likely, the animal traveled a longer distance, Traverso said.

The California Endangered Species Act added gray wolves onto its list of endangered species. California was historically a wolf habitat; soon, the growing population of humans and the conversion of wild lands into habitable acres for humans encroached on the wolves’ territory.

People hunted the animals to extinction in California and killed the last known wolf in 1924 within Lassen County, Traverso said. A wolf once again prowled into the Golden State in 2011, becoming the first wolf to grace the state in 87 years, Weiss said.

The endangered designation of gray wolves makes it “unlawful to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or capture gray wolves,” the CDFW’s news release said. About 20 wolves now live in California.

Gray wolves are known to travel to great lengths for a mate, Traverso added. These animals are genetically predisposed to find a partner outside of their pack, the CDFW deputy director said. A pack’s size can also grow, resulting in a wolf leaving to find a less competitive food source.

These “majestic” animals pose little risk to humans, Traverso said.

“We are not on the menu for gray wolves,” she added. “They much prefer calves, cattle and deer.”

Traverso said this wolf’s travels indicate California manages its landscape more efficiently by applying the right regulations and management techniques. The CDFW news release also noted the wolf population continues to grow in California.

“It’s the start of our burgeoning population of wolves coming back,” Traverso said. “This guy could come all the way down here — it means that others can, too.”

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter. 

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