The Department of Natural Resources is focusing on protecting wolves in the province after confirming a wolf was shot last month on the Acadian Peninsula.
"We're pretty excited about the discovery of a wolf in the province," said Joe Kennedy, biologist for DNR’s Big Game, Furbearer and Fisheries section.
"We've heard trappers talking about very large coyotes or wolves that they've caught but we've never actually had our hands on an animal before. This is the first time we've had good scientific proof that we’ve had a wolf."
Until this wolf was shot, biologists believed the species to have been hunted to extinction more than 100 years ago.
But earlier this week, DNA tests confirmed the 88-pound animal shot by a hunter near Caraquet was a mix of grey wolf and Eastern wolf, not the more common coyote.
"Right now we’re just planning on monitoring," he said, "We haven't really had any discussions at all, it's quite early in the whole game for us to start thinking about options."
Don McAlpine, a zoologist at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, said he believes the wolf may have originally come from Quebec.
Wolf populations have been increasing there, as well as Ontario and the northeastern United States in recent years, he said.
"This animal is a male, we suspect probably a younger animal, so it's not unusual that we would find an individual like this move into perhaps new territory," said McAlpine.
Wolves in the province of New Brunswick are listed as extirpated or eradicated but Kennedy said the species' status may need to change if there is a resurgence in the wolf population.
Kennedy said any status assessment done would have to follow government guidelines and be performed by qualified biologists.
"We would rely on their scientific assessments on how to list the species depending on how many animals are occurring in the province."
The Department of Natural Resources said it was looking into the possibility that the wolf may have originally been someone's escaped pet.
"After we've actually had our hands on the animal, there's nothing obvious would indicate that to us right now," said Kennedy.
"We've had reports from Maine… now Maine had 10 or 12 wolves shot or trapped in their state over the last 10 years, five of those wolves had evidence of being held captive, one was neutered for example. So we are going to look right now at this animal to see if there's any sign."
Too early for any decisions
It's still early too early to make any decisions about habitat protection, said Kennedy. He said there is plenty of moose and deer habitat in the province but is not sure what other requirements may be necessary to support a wolf population.
"I don't know. From what I understand of wolves, it's a food-based issue, is there adequate habitat for its primary food, which is deer and moose," he said.
"Frankly this is new to us, and I’m no wolf expert."
Kennedy said an increase in sightings and other evidence of wolves in the province such as tracks would mean DNR would likely start an education program, so hunters don't mistakenly shoot them.
But Kennedy admits it's often difficult to determine if an animal is a wolf or one of its closely related cousins, coyotes.
He said the two species have similar coat colours and although wolves are often much bigger than coyotes, he has seen some very large coyote specimens.
"There's very strong similarities in appearance between to the two animals and occasionally there's not a great size difference," Kennedy said.