Wolves have not been seen in Newfoundland since around 1930 and were believed to have been hunted to extinction on the island, but genetic tests have confirmed that an 82-pound animal shot on the Bonavista Peninsula in March was, in fact, a wolf.
"We can only speculate on how this wolf arrived on the island of Newfoundland, but most likely it travelled from Labrador on sea ice to the island," Terry French, environment and conservation minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, said in a news release.
'With the number of polar bears coming ashore in Newfoundland this spring, sea ice was plentiful enough to provide a travel route for a Labrador wolf.' — Terry French, environment and conservation minister for Newfoundland and Labrador
"Wolves are known to travel long distances, and with the number of polar bears coming ashore in Newfoundland this spring, sea ice was plentiful enough to provide a travel route for a Labrador wolf."
Extensive genetic testing by Memorial University in St. John's and the University of Idaho confirmed the 37-kilogram animal was not a coyote or a dog.
"Based on the analyses of our samples, which included coyotes from insular Newfoundland, wolves from Labrador and dogs from both insular Newfoundland and Labrador, we conclude that the animal is a wolf," said Beth Perry, a research associate at Memorial's Genomics and Proteomics Facility.
Hunter killed wolf in March
Joe Fleming, an avid hunter from the Bonavista Peninsula community of Spillars Cove, shot and killed the wolf on March 12.
Fleming had seen abnormally large tracks and had heard tales about a super-sized predator in the area.
He attracted the animal using an electronic decoy device to lure it into the open.
"I turned on a male challenge call, which means there's another male trying to take over his area or his female coyotes, and I'd say within three minutes, he was coming in," said Fleming.
He killed the animal with a single rifle shot from over 200-metres away.
Fleming wasn't sure whether the animal was a coyote or a wolf because the tracks were so big but had attended a government-sponsored coyote seminar a month earlier at which it was mentioned that there were no longer any wolves in Newfoundland.
No evidence of breeding
The Newfoundland wolf is believed to have been hunted to extinction on the island since about 1930, but the grey wolf is still found in Labrador.
"Although wolves may occasionally arrive from Labrador, there is no evidence of a breeding population on the island portion of the province," said Friday's news release.
The release said the province has collected tissue samples from about 3,000 coyotes shot or trapped in Newfoundland through the coyote carcass collection program but that, to date, no other wolves have been identified.
The province said its strategy for monitoring and managing the threatened woodland caribou population on the island has also not found evidence of wolves.