A large, wolf-like animal found dead on a roadside north of Morris last Friday "looks like it might be a hybrid of some sort," says Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist Bob Massey.
"It has characteristics of coyote, dog and wolf," Massey said Wednesday, after IDNR sent out a news release about the animal being found along Nettle Creek Road, north of Interstate 80, early on Feb. 13. The site was a couple miles northwest of Morris, Massey said.
The animal was found by a some guys heading to a hunt club, who then called, he said.
Massey has measured the animal and sent the information off to a wolf biologist in Wisconsin.
"If it falls within the parameters of wolf size, we will send it for DNA analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," he said.
He has doubts. "It didn't look lanky, like a wolf — not long legged enough," he said.
"I'm hoping to have information back before the end of he week. He takes up a lot of freezer space."
The animal is about 48 inches from nose to rear end and weighs "in the 90-pound range," Massey said. Its fur is "in the slate gray range, with a few touches of yellow around the tail. You'd swear it is a coyote tail. That's one of the things that leads me to believe it is not a purebred."
Wolves were believed eliminated from Illinois by the 1860s, by a combination of hunting and conversion of habitat into farms and other uses.
However, they have prospered in recent years in Wisconsin, which had none in 1970 and reports 800 now. Similar wolf success has occurred in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, next to northern Wisconsin. Both states have had reinstated limited wolf hunting, but Michigan voters rejected wolf hunting last year and a federal district judge has since ruled to put the grey wolf back on the federal endangered species list in the western Great Lakes region.
Visiting gray wolves from the north have been found in Illinois in recent years. Ten wolves were killed in Illinois between 2002 and 2013, according to an Illinois Extension article published last year.
Most of those wolves were killed in far northern Illinois, from Jo Davies County and counties in the northwest part of the state to Lake and Kane counties in the northeast. Another was killed in Pike County, on the Mississippi River midway down the state, and another in Marshall County, on the Illinois River, in 2002, the first wolf confirmed in Illinois in a century and a half.
If the Grundy County animal "is a true wolf, it would be the first in this area," said Massey, who has been a district wildlife biologist in the area since the early 1990s.
He noted the migration of gray wolves down from the north, but also said: "There are a lot of wolf-dog hybrid breeders. People may turn them loose if they don't like the results."
Wolf-dog-coyote hybrids can occur naturally, as well. "You always hear of coy-dogs," he said. "That's one of the attractants that lure coyotes into urban areas ... female dogs that come into heat."