A DNA analysis performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center in Colorado determined the 73-pound animal was a federally endangered gray wolf with a genetic makeup resembling wolves native to the Great Lakes Region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Oregon confirmed the finding.
How the wolf found its way to a Munfordville hay ridge at daybreak in March remains a mystery. Wolves have been gone from the state since the mid-1800s.
Great Lakes Region wolf biologists said the animal’s dental characteristics – a large amount of plaque on its teeth – suggest it may have spent some time in captivity. A largely carnivorous diet requiring the crushing of bone as they eat produces much less plaque on the teeth of wild wolves.
Hart County resident James Troyer took the animal with a shot from 100 yards away while predator hunting on his family’s farm. Troyer, 31, said he had taken a coyote off the property just two weeks earlier.
But when he approached the downed animal he noticed it was much larger. "I was like – wow – that thing was big!" he recalled. "It looked like a wolf, but who is going to believe I shot a wolf?"
Because a free-ranging wolf has not been seen in the state for more than a century, biologists were skeptical at first. However, wildlife officials were aware that a few radio-collared northern wolves have wandered as far south as Missouri in the past decade.
Wolves resemble coyotes, except they are much larger. From a distance, the size difference is difficult to determine.
Troyer convinced Kevin Raymond, a wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, to look at the animal. Once Raymond saw the animal was twice the size of a coyote, he contacted furbearer biologist Laura Patton, who submitted samples to federal officials for DNA testing.
Because state and federal laws prohibit the possession, importation into Kentucky or hunting of gray wolves, federal officials took possession of the pelt. Since this is the first free-ranging gray wolf documented in Kentucky’s modern history, federal or state charges are not expected because there were no prior biological expectations for any hunter to encounter a wolf.