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Captive wolf on the lam

This wolf apparently escaped from the Wolf People sanctuary in Cocolalla, Idaho, in June 2011, despite workers’ insistence that the wolf had died. (Courtesy Photo)
This wolf apparently escaped from the Wolf People sanctuary in Cocolalla, Idaho, in June 2011, despite workers’ insistence that the wolf had died. (Courtesy Photo)

Escaped animal had been reported dead by owner

When Mark Earls saw a shaggy, white wolf crossing a road in North Idaho’s Hoodoo Valley, he pulled out his cellphone to snap a picture of it.

“What boggled him was that the wolf didn’t run away,” said his wife, Chelsea. “It didn’t appear to be afraid of him.”

The wolf escaped from Wolf People, which operates a retail store on U.S. Highway 95 near Cocolalla, Idaho, and keeps captive wolves for viewing and filming, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The wolf apparently got out by digging underneath the fence, said Chip Corsi, Fish and Game’s regional manager. By some neighbors’ accounts, it has been seen in the area since June, acting like a stray dog.

A captive wolf on the lam is a concern because it’s used to being around people.

“It’s a habituated Canis lupus and it’s potentially dangerous,” Corsi said. “This thing either needs to go back into captivity or it needs to be euthanized.”

Fish and Game officials have told the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department and neighbors in the Hoodoo Valley that it’s OK to shoot the animal on sight. Since it’s not a wild wolf, it’s not regulated under Idaho’s wolf season, which requires hunters to purchase a hunting license and wolf tag.

A Fish and Game officer took the wolf’s picture to Wolf People owner Nancy Taylor, who confirmed that the wolf belonged to her, Corsi said. She also said that she had previously reported the wolf as dead, he said.

“This was not reported to us like it was supposed to be,” Corsi said. “That’s a problem … I believe she’s required to report escapees pretty quick.”

Neighbors said that a Wolf People volunteer had been taking fliers around, advertising a “lost dog” that looked like a wolf.

Taylor has a state permit to keep captive wolves, and Wolf People’s website said the facility has 18 wolves. Several white wolves are pictured on the site, including a 135-pound male described as an arctic/timber wolf cross, and a 75-pound male. Some of the wolves are taken to a visitor center at the store on a daily basis, but others are kept in large enclosures at another site near Lake Cocolalla, the website said.

Wolf People has been in operation for 21 years, Taylor said Wednesday, but she declined to discuss the incident.

“I don’t feel free to comment at this time,” she said. “I can’t comment without knowing the facts, and I haven’t had a chance to investigate the situation.”

Teresa Gavin lives in the Hoodoo Valley, about 8 miles southeast of Priest River. The picture of the white wolf was snapped on a road adjacent to her property. She keeps a sharp eye on her 4-year-old twins when they’re playing outside but thinks the wolf poses more danger to her dogs and her horse.

“Let’s hope that someone finds him before any harm is done to anyone or their animals,” Gavin said of the wolf.

She thinks Wolf People would have had a better chance of getting the animal back alive if the escape had been reported immediately.

Chelsea Earls keeps a gun handy when her children are playing outside. She said that she and her husband have been vigilant about predators since a coyote killed the family dog last winter.

“It’s not reassuring knowing there’s a wolf around,” she said. “It may be used to people, but it’s still a wild animal.”