Colorado wildlife officials on Wednesday confirmed the existence of a litter of gray wolf pups—the first thought to be seen in the state in decades. The discovery is also noteworthy in light of a voter-passed initiative last year to reintroduce wolves to Colorado by 2023.
Throughout much of the U.S., gray wolves were driven to local extinction as a result of American expansion to the west and dedicated hunting programs. In Colorado, the last breeding populations had disappeared by the 1940s. Today, they remain an endangered species largely limited to Alaska and parts of the Northwestern and upper Midwestern U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico.
But there have been hopes in recent years that wolves could start to reclaim some of their historic territories, either on their own or with the help of humans. Last year, Colorado residents passed an initiative calling for the reintroduction of wolves to the state by 2023 in a tight vote that saw opposition from hunters and some ranchers. But it seems mother nature wasn’t waiting for permission.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, multiple staff, including a biologist, were able to confirm the sighting of at least three pups between June 4 and 8, though there may be more. The pups were found in the presence of collared wolves M2101 and F1084, nicknamed John and Jane. There had been suspicions last year that the two were soon-to-be parents, after they had relocated to the state as a pair and it was discovered that Jane was actually female, not a male as originally labeled. But due to the risk that human interaction can bring to these animals, it took a while for this confirmation to happen. And even now, officials are keeping their distance.
“Our hope is that we will eventually have photos to document this momentous occasion in Colorado’s incredible and diverse wildlife history, but not bothering them remains a paramount concern,” CPW biologist Libbie Miller said in a statement released by the agency.
Colorado governor Jared Polis also celebrated the news, referencing the upcoming dictate to relocate wolves back to the state.
“We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado. With voter passage last year of the initiative to require re-introduction of the wolf by the end of 2023, these pups will have plenty of potential mates when they grow up to start their own families,” said Polis.
Colorado isn’t the only state enjoying new wolf babies. Last year, wildlife officials in California documented the arrival of eight new pups to the only wolf pack known to live in the state.