A wandering wolf had his epic journey searching for a new life suddenly come to a tragic stop in Southern California after traveling more than 1,000 miles from Oregon to seek a forest and a new pack.
The gray wolf, named OR-93, was killed by traffic near Interstate 5 in Kern County earlier this month, the Mercury News reported, citing an announcement by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday, Nov. 24.
The carcass of the young male wolf was spotted by a truck driver on the edge of a Tejon Pass mountain town, east of Santa Barbara, meaning he had roamed deeper into California than any wolf in a century.
OR-93 began its lonely journey in January 2020 from northern Oregon, where he was born, seeking to create a new pack of the endangered wolves.
The death ends his extraordinary journey. It is calculated that the wolf crossed 18 counties, traveling more than 1,000 miles, averaging 16 miles per day.
OR-93 was still wearing his purple collar when found, although its satellite transmitter stopped working last April. An autopsy found significant tissue trauma to his left rear leg, a dislocated knee, and soft tissue trauma to the abdomen, attributed to a vehicle strike.
“We owe a responsibility to them,” said Austin Smith Jr., a wildlife manager with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon, who collared OR-93 as a pup in 2019. “The habitat has changed. There’s growth, urban sprawl, and loss of forest. It’s not the first time that a collared wolf has ended up on the side of the road.”
“We were hoping he’d turn around, come back and find himself a mate,” Smith said.
There are three packs of wolves in California; all of them reside in the remote northwest corner of the state, with the Lassen Pack in Lassen and Plumas counties, the Whaleback Pack in Siskiyou County, and the Beckwourth Pack in Plumas County.
Smith recalled that he first spotted OR-93 as a youngster, part of a larger pack that traversed the tribes’ large landscape of ponderosa pine and oak scrub. As the elder brother of the newest litter, he had begun to wander far from the den. Smith and his team set up a rubber-jawed trap to catch him, then tranquilized and collared him.
The lean wolf trotted off into the woods after awakening from the sedative. And he then headed south.
The satellite transmitter showed that OR-93 entered California last January. He traveled hundreds of miles from Modoc County in the state’s desolate northeast region known for sagebrush, pine and fir forests, wheat fields, and iron Daisy windmills. From there, he journeyed across the rugged Sierra Nevada. But then he turned west, traversing the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.
By March, the wolf reached the pastoral county of San Benito, an hour’s drive south of the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley. In April, he was reported in Monterey County. In May, a trail camera video showed him drinking water from a trough in Kern County.
In October, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife received three reports of a wolf with a purple collar in Ventura County. Officials were able to confirm wolf tracks in the vicinity. They decided not to meddle with his trek, opting not to move him.
But his epic journey ended in a traffic accident.
Pamela Flick, California program director with Defenders of Wildlife, said that OR-93’s demise underscores the need for more wildlife crossing structures throughout the state to facilitate safe passage for animals.