- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

INDUSTRY, Ill. (AP) - A western Illinois man’s trail camera video has prompted wildlife experts to conduct testing to see whether a wolf pack is living in the area.

Jay Smith has captured video for several years of canines on property he manages near the McDonough County village of Industry, which is about 235 miles (380 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. Smith has more than 40 separate videos of the animals and at least 70 photos, he told the Chicago Tribune .

While the area hasn’t had a verified wolf sighting in decades, Smith believes the animals are wolves.

“We basically have Grand Central Station for wolves here,” Smith said.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago’s Field Museum and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working together to identify the animals. The Field Museum is conducting DNA tests on carcasses that Smith has provided. Results are expected in a few weeks.

Identifying the animals is difficult because scientists haven’t been able to agree about the genetic differences between wolves and coyotes. Improvements to DNA analysis has raised questions about how many distinct species there are between gray, red and eastern wolves and coyotes, said David Mech, a senior scientist in biological resources with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Experts believe the animals Smith has spotted are likely coyotes, indigenous wild dogs or some sort of hybrid.

Based on the animals’ skeletons and anatomy, it’s unlikely they’re wolves or even wolf-hybrids, said Tom Gnoske, the Field Museum’s chief preparator and assistant collection manager.

“I believe that there is something genuinely interesting hidden within this conundrum,” Gnoske said.

Smith, 57, said he’s captured 40 separate videos of the animals and at least 70 photos since he first strapped his trail cameras on trees and posts about five years ago.

Then last fall, Smith said, he saw “an explosion” of images of the mysterious animals on his cameras. He reached out to the Field Museum and the Illinois governor’s office. He also has posted videos on YouTube.

At this point, Smith said he believes he has almost 40 of the animals on the 265 acres south of Macomb owned by his wife’s family.

Early this year he began working with the Field Museum, which has four specimens from Smith - two road kills, one that died after being caught in a fence and a larger, stuffed and mounted wolflike animal that Smith said was shot in the area during the 1930s.

Gnoske said he’s excited to find out what the animals are. When asked his best guess, he answers “Honestly, I have no idea.”


Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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