DNA shows mysterious Nevada canids weren’t wolves

Two lab tests indicate they are coyotes

When a wolf wandered into Nevada in 2017, it caught a lot of attention. The species hadn’t been seen in the state for nearly a century. So when a government-contracted helicopter crew monitoring for moose (Alces alces) spotted three canids that appeared to be gray wolves (Canis lupus) in the area around Merritt Mountain, North of Elko, the Nevada Department of Wildlife set out to investigate.

The agency embarked on helicopter searches and ground surveys until biologists came back with hair, feces and urine samples they believed belonged to the trio. After two independent laboratories conducted DNA analyses, they determined—with 99.9% certainty—that the animals were coyotes (C. latrans), a common species in the state.

The wildlife department said its own biologists conducted further helicopter searches and surveys on the ground to collect hair, fecal and urine samples believed to belong to the mysterious creatures. The samples underwent DNA analyses at two independent laboratories. Results showed with 99.9% certainty that they came from coyotes, officials said.

“While initial observations indicated the possibility of wolves in the area, the DNA results of the samples collected indicated that these animals were, in fact, coyotes,” said NDOW Director Alan Jenne, in a press release. “We appreciate the diligence of our biologists, assisting laboratory personnel and the public’s cooperation throughout this process and we will continue to monitor the area for any indication of wolf presence.”

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Header Image: Rural Elko County, Nevada. Credit: Famartin