Oregon's wandering gray wolf, dubbed "OR-7," has settled down and is rearing its first puppies, wildlife officials announced on June 4.
These are the first wolves known to reproduce in Oregon since the 1940s, according to a statement from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). A survey in 2013 counted 64 wolves in Oregon, in eight packs in the northeastern corner of the state. OR-7 is an outlier, preferring to range back and forth across the Oregon-California border after leaving its pack in 2011.
Wolves were exterminated from Oregon in the 1940s, with the last killed for a state bounty in 1946. The iconic animals established a new population there starting in the 2000s, as wolves dispersed from reintroduction programs in Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains.
The male wolf OR-7 became famous in 2012 when it first crossed into California. It was the first known wolf in California in 87 years. A GPS tracking collar showed OR-7 ranged thousands of miles after he left northeastern Oregon in September 2011. [Gallery: Images of Oregon's New Wolf Pups]
OR-7 eventually returned to Oregon, and a remote camera recently caught him with a black female of unknown origin, whom biologists suspect is his mate, ODFW officials said.
On Monday (June 2), biologists spotted two furry pups poking their noses out of the adults' den. Scientists suspect more pups will eventually be counted, because wolves usually bear four to six pups per litter. The biologists collected wolf poop for DNA analysis, which may reveal the lineage of OR-7's mate. Researchers keep a DNA database of wolf families.
OR-7 has repeatedly crossed the California border, and his new pups could follow in his footsteps, boosting the odds that California may once again have a wolf population, John Stephenson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who captured the photos of the pups, told the Sacramento Bee.
California has no wolf population. However, on Monday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect wolves under the state's Endangered Species Act. Wolves in Oregon are protected under the state's Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing the gray wolf from the national endangered species list. There are more than 5,000 gray wolves in the lower 48 states.