An endangered gray wolf killed in Utah by a hunter nearly two months ago was identified Wednesday as the same wolf that was seen in Grand Canyon National Park last year, a sighting that had ignited hopes among conservationists that the species might return to the area.
The positive identification was made through DNA analysis, comparing the wolf's tissue to previously collected samples, according to a release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The gray wolf is endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act in southern Utah, according to the service.
An investigation into the killing of the wolf is ongoing. The hunter said he mistook the wolf for a coyote.
The 3-year-old female wolf, known as 914F, had traveled between 400 and 500 miles from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon, likely in search of a mate, said Mike Jimenez, the northern Rocky Mountains wolf management and science coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"It's hard-wired into their biology," he said. "They disperse when they're mature."
The wolf was first spotted at the Grand Canyon in the fall.
In a contest sponsored by a coalition of conservation groups, the wolf was named Echo in December.
"The main meaning for people was the return of something that had been there before," said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the nonprofit Western Wildlife Conservancy.
Echo later traveled at least 200 miles to Utah before she was shot.
"It was a harbinger of the possibility of wolves on the rim of the Grand Canyon," Robinson said. "It shows that it's going to take a long time for that to happen."