Saturday, 2:15 PM
By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
More than 160 years since hunters drove wolves out of Massachusetts, federal officials have confirmed finding a wild gray wolf in the state.
US Fish and Wildlife Service officials said today that genetic tests performed on an animal killed on a Shelburne farm in October, after it mauled more than a dozen sheep, showed that it was an eastern gray wolf.
"We have no indication that this wolf was ever held in captivity," said Thomas J. Healy, special agent in charge of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region. "But what we don't know about this wolf's origins far outweighs what we do know."
The confirmation is giving wildlife enthusiasts hope that the animal may one day reestablish itself in the forests of the Northeast. Wolves were aggressively hunted by farmers in the early 1800s until virtually none were left. The nearest established populations to New England are in Ontario and Quebec.
While the public often reports sighting wolves, most of those animals turn out to be coyotes or wolf-dog, wolf-coyote mixes, officials say. The last time a purebred wolf that did not live in captivity was found in New England was around 1992 in Maine.
The genetic tests on the 85-pound male were conducted by scientists at the wildlife service's National Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, Ore. Massachusetts and other wildlife biologists had previously said they doubted the wolf was a purebred.
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