Five years ago this week, a wolf known as OR-7 began a long journey across Oregon. He traveled some 1,200 miles, including a stint in northern California, before settling in southern Oregon.
Some biologists thought OR-7 would forever remain a wandering bachelor and never pair up. But he found a mate in 2014, and the two have produced pups for the past three years in a row.
Michelle Dennehy with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says much has changed for wolves since OR-7 was born in 2009 in eastern Oregon.
"At the end of 2009 the state of Oregon had 14 wolves," said Dennehy. "At the end of 2015, we had a 110 wolves. So you can see that the growth of the wolf population has been huge."
More wolves continue to find their way to southern Oregon, even if they haven't found mates. Dennehy said there are at least two additional lone males in the region. "There could be other wolves there, we just know about these two wolves because they're collared," she said.
OR-7's GPS collar died in 2015, but all signs point to him still being around. Earlier this month, OR-7 was captured on camera at a trail monitoring site.
At seven years old, OR-7 now fits into the category of "elderly" for wolves. In the wild, wolves tend to live 6-8 years, although Dennehy pointed out that OR-7's dad, OR-4 from the Imnaha pack, lived for 10 years.
OR-7 now heads up the Rogue Pack, one of two wolf groups in southern Oregon. The lesser known OR-3 heads up the Silver Lake Wolves in Klamath County. That wolf embarked on a similar journey to OR-7, from eastern Oregon to southern Oregon in 2011. But because he wasn't wearing a GPS collar, OR-3 didn't get the same fame. OR-3 paired with a female wolf that was illegally shot and killed by poachers in early October.
In Oregon, wolves have been removed from the state endangered species list, although they’re still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in western Oregon.