Rare wolf found safe in New Brighton

  • Updated: February 18, 2010 - 10:06 PM

Wildlife officials and police caught the animal next to a freeway in New Brighton. It had been missing from its locked cage since Monday.

After three nights on the run, a rare wolf mysteriously sprung from a cage at a wildlife center in Forest Lake was captured safely Thursday in New Brighton.

"She's going to be fine, thank heavens. She's going to be fine," said Peggy Callahan, executive director of the Wildlife Science Center, who had the animal wrapped in a blanket in the back of an SUV.

Acting on a tip from citizens, police and wildlife officials cornered the female Mexican gray wolf -- one of fewer than 150 worldwide -- against a chain-link fence near Long Lake Road and Interstate 694 as traffic zoomed by. They got nets around the animal, allowing a wildlife official to inject it with a tranquilizer.

The wolf was disappeared Monday after someone broke a lock on its cage at the center. Its two sisters stayed behind. Officials plan to someday reintroduce the wolves to the wild.

Callahan said she suspected that animal rights extremists were responsible for the wolf's release, although authorities said they had no evidence of that.

Joy Fusco, the science center's administrator, initially discounted sightings of what turned out to be the wayward wolf. "We've had more than 60 calls, reporting sightings from Edina to Wisconsin, and they turn out to be coyotes," she said Thursday morning.

Several homeowners in New Brighton called police about 5:45 a.m., saying the animal was crouched under a deck. It was captured about 9:30.

"When we heard that she was down here and we got verification that this was her, next to these freeways and roads, I was thinking that we were going to watch her get smucked on the freeway," Callahan said. "We were more and more discouraged every day."

The wolf was seen early Wednesday in Anoka County, near lower Coon Lake. Callahan said they believed that blood found in connection with that sighting came from the wolf biting its tongue, because it appeared to be in good shape otherwise.

She doubted that the wolf, which does not know how to hunt, ate anything in three days. Wildlife Center staffers planned to treat the wolf to a meal of roadkill deer and then reintroduce her to her pack.

"There's a very intense kind of hierarchy, and she's the highest-ranking female," Callahan said. "Although it's been only a couple of days ... it's entirely possible they closed ranks behind her."

Callahan said the center is improving its security.

No one has been arrested in the break-in, and Lt. Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office discounted the theory that extremists sprung the animal. He asked, "If it's truly animal rights people ... then why did they open just one cage?"

Callahan said the wolf won't be the only one resting comfortably after a harrowing three days.

"I'm so, so relieved. This has been a nightmare," she said. "This is a national effort to keep this particular type of animal alive. ... This animal, her DNA, her participation in this whole reintroduction is important."

Staff writers Kevin Giles and Aimee Blanchette contributed to this report. vonste@startribune.com • 612-673-7184

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