Updated: February 02, 2021 09:07 PM
Created: February 02, 2021 07:14 PM
The Voyageurs Wolf Project was created to study wolves in the northeastern part of the state during the summer months, but it's what happened during the winter that is getting some attention.
"In November 2020 the wolf just kind of disappeared off the map and we didn’t know what had occurred," said project lead Tom Gable.
But a few weeks later, the 2-year-old collared male started sending GPS signals and data once again.
"The locations were in the same spot every day for about a week which was a pretty good indication that the wolf was dead, or at least the collar was in a spot and wasn't moving," Gable said.
That location was near Orr, Minnesota.
Last month, Gable and his colleagues headed out to find the wolf, never guessing what they would discover.
"The collar was on the edge of a river and we quickly realized that the wolf was underneath the ice," Gable said.
With sledgehammers, hatchets and other tools in hand, they started chipping away at 10 inches of ice.
"We tried to, like an archeologic dig, cut a circle big enough out so that we didn’t damage the wolf's body or the collar and could get the whole wolf out in one piece," he said.
Gable suspects the wolf was illegally killed in November, then thrown in the river, and despite being in water for two months, the transmitter was still working.
"It was pretty surreal standing there in the iconic winter scene and to be chipping through the ice to recover the full body of an animal that had died two months earlier," he recalled.
It is one of two collared wolves recently found dead.
Another was just recovered near Grand Rapids, and also believed to have been killed in November.
While Gable says the deaths are not a concern for population density, it is disheartening.
"Even if whoever killed the wolf isn't figured out, we still gather important data about wolf populations in our area and in Minnesota," he shared.
Since it's believed the wolves were likely killed in November when they were still considered a protected species in Minnesota, the penalty could be up to six months in jail and up to $25,000 in fines.
If you know anything about either of these cases, you are asked to call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources poacher line at 800-652-9093.
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