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Utah wildlife biologists still hope to learn whether four animals spotted two months ago in the Wasatch Mountains east of Springville might be the state's first modern-day resident wolves.
But the canine feces they collected and sent to a California laboratory for genetic testing turned out to be a dud: It came from coyotes.
It doesn't mean the animals that a coyote-control team saw from a helicopter are coyotes, Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Hadley said Monday. Biologists say they're definitely not coyotes but rather wolves or wolf-dog hybrids. The false test just means crews that later found a scavenged moose carcass in the area collected and submitted scat from the wrong suspects.
The search continues, Hadley said, and officials hope to trap a live canine so they can draw blood for testing and affix a tracking collar.
A biologist is visiting the area every week to either howl or play recorded wolf howls and get a response. The animals are still there, he said, and respond to the biologist's calls.
"She knows that it's not a coyote that's howling back," Hadley said.
The continued calls indicate that, whatever they are, these animals aren't just passing through like rogue traveling wolves seen in the state before. They could start Utah's first pack in a recovering wolf population.
The effort should help biologists map the animals' movements to zero in on the best place to put a trap. The state will enlist federal wildlife trappers' help when the time comes, and Hadley said they already have permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to catch what may be federally protected animals.
If they prove to be wolves, the animals would enjoy full protection of the Endangered Species Act and would be subject to management by the Fish and Wildlife Service. If they're hybrids, the state could kill them to prevent them from preying on wildlife or livestock.