A biologist finds what she believes to be wolf scat and tracks on a ranch in northwestern Colorado (HCN, 2/15/10)
Cristina Eisenberg, an Oregon State University doctoral student employed by the High Lonesome Ranch, collected 18 scat samples for DNA analysis. Now, the results are in: 11 samples were from coyotes, or had preliminary indications of being from coyotes. The rest weren't readable.
Eisenberg is familiar with wolves and their sign, and she was assisted by two other experienced trackers. The scat of coyotes and wolves overlaps in size, but the size and contents of the scat at the ranch met the generally accepted criteria for wolf scat.
DNA analysis of scat is often a tricky business: Robert Wayne, the head of the University of California, Los Angeles lab that analyzed the scat, says DNA degrades over time and in harsh environmental conditions. "DNA survives best in cold, dry, dark places," he says.
So what now? Research at the ranch now includes motion-sensitive cameras, and Eisenberg continues to see scat and tracks that she says suggest the presence of wolves. We may not have heard the last about wolves and the High Lonesome Ranch.