Big Predators Return to Kansas: Gray Wolves
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The gray wolf was once a resident of much of the United States, adapted to a wide range of habitats.  It was common in Kansas, except perhaps in the very southeastern corner of the state.  Explorers once recorded its presence in both prairie and forested habitats.

This much-feared animal was frequently shot on sight by settlers.  The last wolf in Kansas was seen in 1905.  Most of the population was restricted to Mexico, Canada, and the Great Lakes—until recently.

Recent Report

  • December 2012.  Male shot in Trego County.

Where Did It Come From?

Genetic testing revealed that the gray wolf shot in 2012 was full-blooded and belonged to the Great Lakes population.  It appears that young male wolves from the Great Lakes have been dispersing to other states, including nearby Missouri, in search of new territory.

So far the record above is the only confirmed wolf sighting in Kansas since wolves were extirpated from the state.

How to Identify a Wolf

Wolves can readily be told apart from coyotes by a number of characteristics:

  • Large size.  One of the first things that strikes people who have seen wolves is their size.  They are significantly larger than coyotes.
  • Head.  A coyote has a slender, pointy face.  A wolf’s head is broader, more like a dog’s.
  • Ears.  A coyote’s ears are huge and pointy.  A wolf’s ears look proportionately smaller and are rounder at the tips.
  • Big feet.  A coyote’s feet are small and look almost dainty.  A wolf has big paws.

Telling a true wolf apart from a wolf-dog hybrid is extremely difficult.  There is no reliable way to distinguish the two visually.  Genetic testing is the method of choice.

Helpful Resource

Distinguishing Between Coyotes, Wolves, and Dogs
Excellent PDF addressing appearance, sounds, and signs, complete with lots of pictures.