FRESNO, Calif. — He doesn’t like busy Interstate 5 or eating cattle, at least so far. He gets along with his distant cousins the coyotes, likes to swim and roams a lot — an awful lot — around the northernmost reaches of the Golden State.
A week or so ago, California’s lone gray wolf passed his first anniversary as a transplant resident with the same technical accouterments some people possess: a Twitter account and an online site about his travels.
“What strikes me about him is that when I talk to the general public they show remarkable knowledge about his movements, much more than some world events,” said Richard Callas, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Wolves captivate public interest.
“No matter how you feel about wolves, when you see one it’s amazing,” he added.
Far larger than coyotes, wolves were feared and hunted to near-extinction in the U.S. before being protected by the Endangered Species Act in 1973. They were reintroduced in the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, and some migrated into Idaho and Oregon, where they have quickly reproduced.
California’s wolf is known as OR-7 because he was the seventh in Oregon to be fitted with a GPS tracking collar. While most wolves stay within 100 miles of where they were born, OR-7 proved different: He trotted 1,000 miles from northeast Oregon to California, then more than 2,000 since arriving.
Scientists speculate the 3½-year-old is looking for a mate or a new pack, though they know both prospects are remote. He is believed to be the first of the predators to roam within the state’s boundaries since 1924, when the last gray wolf was killed by a trapper intent on making the West safe for cattle.
“The reality is OR-7 is not likely to find a mate in California. He’ll likely pass on without successfully reproducing,” said Karen Kovacs, whose job as wildlife program manager for the state Department of Fish & Wildlife has been focused lately on this one animal.
The lone wolf also has been celebrated by fans such as “iamgreenbean” who this week sent the message “We are THRILLED to have you” to the Twitter account “WolfOR7.” The anonymous wolf often tweets about eating ungulates, or asking journalists, “Why the fixation with my love life?”
So beloved is OR-7 in Oregon that a newspaper cartoonist depicted him as a candidate during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Still, his presence has prompted action by one state and two federal agencies that now have to figure out how to manage the species if others follow in his 5-inch paw prints. Federal wildlife agencies had not considered California a part of the original Western states wolf recovery plan.
OR-7 has aroused concerns among residents of the northeastern counties who fear the wolf will kill livestock, although officials say he has not so far.