Chris Mortimer, a naturalist from California, was driving over Santiam Pass in late January when he was suddenly shocked to see a very large, wolf-like animal dash across the road in front of him. "Wolf!" he shouted, and pulled over to the side of the highway.
With only a small, point-and-shoot camera at his disposal, he did the best he could to document what may turn out to be the first wild wolf seen in these parts in over 100 years.
When John Stephenson, local U.S. Fish and Wildlife specialist was consulted, he said, "I think it's too far from Idaho to be part of those packs." Stephenson and Corey Heath, wildlife biologist for the Bend Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Regional Office, tracked the animal over five miles from where Mortimer first observed it. Stephenson said, "I couldn't see any sign of it getting into someone's pickup, or heading for a house. It could be the real thing, but we just don't know."
ODFW wildlife biologist Russ Morgan is the state's wolf coordinator in LaGrande, and agreed that the animal is definitely wolf-like and contacted Stephenson and Heath asking for possible confirmation.
According to wolf experts who have viewed Mortimer's photos, the general opinion is that the animal sighted is in excellent condition, showing "a good coat and fat on the belly," a trait rarely seen in a "wild wolf." This leaves some speculation that it may have been released or strayed after escaping from captivity. However, ODFW wildlife biologist Steve George gave the wolf a lot of credit for staying in shape when he added, "Yeah, but don't forget, there's a lot of elk up there."
Then, there's the business of "wolfdogs," a crossbreed of domestic dog and wolf that have become popular in some pet circles. These canines posses a moderate percentage of wolf, but tend to be more like a dog than a wolf in most situations. However, wolfdog "ownership" (which is legal in Oregon) is not to be taken lightly; wolfdog crosses have some characteristics that can make them challenging as pets; an understatement if push comes to shove.
Even the terms used to refer to wolfdogs can be confusing; in the past the term wolf hybrid was commonly used. The term "hybrid" refers to a cross of different species. Dogs, however, have been reclassified as Canis lupus familiaris, a sub species of wolves (Canis lupus).
How can anyone question Darwin's theory of evolution as a legitimate scientific investigation when confronted by what Man and the wolf have accomplished over the millennia? From wolf to yapper dog is a giant leap, and no matter how you look at it, putting "change" in the limelight.
After reviewing the experience and evidence of his encounter with that well-fed wolf-like animal, Chris Mortimer said, "Anyway, this was so cool. I still barely believe it. I have to keep looking at the photo so I don't doubt my vision."
"You" could also be of great help at this point. If you observe (or have observed) an animal with wolf-like characteristics wandering around the wilds of Central Oregon, it would be very helpful if you contacted Steve George or Corey Heath at the Bend ODFW Regional Office, at (541) 388-6363. It may be of considerable help in clearing up this wildlife mystery.