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A gray wolf was just seen near L.A., the southernmost California sighting in a century

SF Gate logo SF Gate 10/4/2021 Andrew Chamings
a wolf outside in the grass: A photo of OR-93, a gray wolf seen in California, shared by the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife. © California Department Of Fish And Wildlife/Handout

A photo of OR-93, a gray wolf seen in California, shared by the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife.

His odyssey isn't over. 

After a year of unprecedented journeying to lands not seen by gray wolves in a century, followed by fears that he had perished, historic lone wolf OR-93 is thought to have been seen again. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced in a statement on Friday that the young male gray wolf — who started his life near Mount Hood in northern Oregon before crossing the state line, three California freeways, and passing near Yosemite and the Bay Area — may now be roaming Ventura County in Southern California. 

Between Sep. 20 and 26 the agency received three separate reports of a gray wolf with a purple collar in northern Ventura County. The department staff inspected the sites and confirmed wolf tracks. While the agency doesn't yet have forensic evidence or collar signals to be 100% sure, they say the sightings match his description.

They added that if an opportunity arises, CDFW "may attempt to capture and re-collar the wolf to continue tracking its journey."

Historically, the entire state of California was a natural wolf habitat, but this sighting is the farthest south in the state that any gray wolf has been seen since one was found in San Bernardino County in 1922. Soon after that, the California population of the species was hunted and driven out of the state. Their historic reemergence this year has excited naturalists. 

“We’re thrilled to hear that OR-93 is likely alive and exploring Ventura County after not hearing from him for months,” Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “This beautiful wolf’s amazing adventure shows the world what intrepid animals they are. We propose a toast to OR-93 and to California for providing wolves the protections they need to make such a remarkable journey.”

OR-93 previously made it as far south as San Luis Obispo County in April before his collar stopped sending signals. Wolf watchers feared he may have been hunted. 

The first sign of life reemerged in August, when an unearthed trail camera video from May showed a collared gray wolf drinking water in Kern County.  

The gray wolf, a social and often fierce predator, is an iconic creature in the North American story, ranking alongside bald eagles and bison in American folklore. After a century of absence the species may be returning to California and the CDFW is reminding people that trapping and hunting them is illegal. Gray wolves are listed as endangered pursuant to California’s Endangered Species Act.

Anyone who believes they have seen a wolf in California can report it to CDFW here.

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