Down to Earth

A Journey 200 Years in The Making: A Gray Wolf Has Traveled Into California's Central Coast

For the first time in nearly 200 years, a gray wolf, which is an endangered species, has ventured into California's Central Coast

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In a historic journey, a lone gray wolf from Oregon has traveled into San Luis Obispo County, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It's the furthest south a gray wolf has been spotted in California in nearly 200 years.

OR-93, named by the Oregon biologists who trapped and fitted him with a GPS collar, has journeyed nearly 1,000 miles from the Mt. Hood region in Oregon where he was born.

Seeing a gray wolf in this part of California is thrilling for wolf experts.

"I'm seeing this wild wolf in SLO County as something akin to the moonwalk. I had that same kind of awe and expectation," Mike Lehane, Executive Director of The Wolf's Reign, said in an interview with KSBY, the NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo.

NBC 7's Dagmar Midcap shows us how a conservation program in Ramona is helping to restore the population of burrowing owls throughout the county.

"We're excitingly watching the return of gray wolf into California in a way that we didn't think was going to happen for another 50 to 100 years. It's the first time in 200 years a gray wolf has set paw in Central California," said Darren Minier, Assistant Director of Animal Care at the Oakland Zoo and Vice President at the California Wolf Center in Julian.

According to GPS tracking, OR-93 crossed into California in February before making his way south to Yosemite, then heading west towards the central coast.

Minier says OR-93 is most likely looking for a female to mate with.

"When a male wolf gets to about a year-and-a-half to two years old, he gets kicked out of the pack and he needs to disperse, find a female and create his own pack," Minier said.

However, with no other wolves, female or male, this far south in California, it's not beneficial for OR-93 to remain in the region.

"We are hoping that he will turn around and backtrack," Minier said. "Our best hope for him is to turn around and head back up north, where he can find a female and be a wolf."

NBC 7's Dagmar Midcap visited two wolf enclosures to learn more about what is being done to protect them.

OR-93's presence in San Luis Obispo also raises other causes for concern. The longer he remains in the region, the more likely it is that he gets hit by a car or shot by someone mistaking the wolf for a coyote.

Minier says the wolf is "an endangered species so shooting him is a federal crime."

Minier added that wolves are reclusive and afraid of humans, so it’s extremely unlikely that OR-93 will attack livestock or people.

"I can pretty much guarantee with one wolf, especially moving as fast as he is, the animals are safe -- dogs, cats, horse, you want to go out riding, a walk or a hike, he’s not going to be a problem for you. Wolves are very shy animals," Minier said.

Minier says it’s important we have compassion for OR-93; he’s just trying to find a mate. Bigger picture, OR-93’s journey into California could be a key step towards wolves returning to California in the wild, very similar to how we currently co-exist with mountain lions.

“We know how to live with carnivores, we are a very open, co-existent savvy sate," Minier said, "So we are optimistic that the wolf will be able to follow that pattern and reclaim what they used to have.”

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