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Michigan wolf wanders over 2,000 miles in 3 states

Big male toured Wisconsin, returned home to the U.P. and then went to Minnesota where it was struck and killed near Meadowlands.

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A lone wolf captured and radio-collared in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last year was struck and killed by a car west of Meadowlands last week, following a journey covering more than 2,000 miles and three states over 14 months.

The male wolf, No. 27121, was trapped and fitted with a GPS transmitting collar near Cup Lake in Gogebic County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on May 28, 2018. In June, 2018 it crossed into Wisconsin, where it spent the rest of the year wandering, as far south as Oxford, in south-central Wisconsin near the Wisconsin Dells. It started heading back north this spring and ended up back in its home range in the U.P. by May.

But then it started wandering again, this time west across Wisconsin and crossing into Minnesota just south of Duluth. It kept going west and then north, as far north as Wildwood, east of Northome in Koochiching County, before aiming south. It was struck by a vehicle on Highway 133 about three miles west of Meadowlands and recovered on July 28.

The male, big at 78 pounds when captured last May, was part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wolf population monitoring effort.

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It's not unusual for wolves to disperse out of their original pack territory, but scientists really don't know why some of them travel such long distances. Better GPS technology and increasing attention on wolf behavior and populations is shedding more light on those travels which may be more common than previously known.

A lone wolf captured in the Voyageurs National Park area and fitted with GPS tracking collar in May, 2018 wandered more than 2,700 miles back and forth across northern Minnesota over the past year, first traveling to the Lake of the Woods area, then returning home, then heading back west again. It eventually set up home near Littlefork in Koochiching County and apparently formed or found a pack, mating with a female that had four pups this spring. Unfortunately, the GPS batteries faded and researchers have lost track of that wolf.

"Lots of people have studied wolf dispersal and tried to study why they go where they go. Unfortunately, it is hard to get inside of the mind of a wolf, but most suspect they wander large distances to find open territories and a mate,'' said Tom Gable, University of Minnesota researcher studying wolves in Voyageurs National Park. "I am guessing that the 2,000 miles or so is not uncommon for lone, wandering wolves."

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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