OLIVIA, Minn. — For those who stared with disbelief at the double-digit, below-zero temperatures on their thermometers earlier this week, consider what Sheldon and Mary Dawn Hatch saw outside their windows.
What appeared to be a wolf was walking across a farm field Tuesday near their farm home north of Olivia.
Sheldon Hatch said he was coming home for a noon dinner when he spotted the animal near the barn and thought at first it might be a deer until he took a better look.
"That isn't a deer," he said.
He went into the house to tell Mary Dawn to grab a phone to get a photo, and they soon called friend and Renville County Sheriff’s Deputy Karla Koplin, who was on duty at the time.
Koplin caught up with the animal north of Bird Island, where she captured video of the animal as it made its way eastward, crossing a farm field and road. The officer has responded to other reports of Northwoods animals roaming farm country, but this was her first call for a wolf, she said.
“This job is so much fun, there are different things that happen all the time,” said Brett Wiltrout, a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Hutchinson. He too responded to the report about the wolf and was able to observe it as well. It was walking across an open field, in no apparent hurry and seemingly unconcerned about bitter cold.
Wiltrout said the animal had all of the appearance and characteristics of a wolf. Its body size, coloring and the mechanics of its stride all appeared to be that of a wolf and not that of a coyote or dog. He measured the animal’s tracks in the snow. They were nearly four inches in length.
“But you never know 100% without DNA analysis,” he said. He noted too that wolves are protected animals.
Rare in the area
Cory Netland, wildlife manager with the DNR in New London, said reports of wolves in this area of the state are very rare, but they do happen. He knows of at least two prior situations. One animal had been found near Paynesville and another near Silver Lake after being struck by vehicles. Olivia is about 32 miles south of Willmar.
Netland said testing on the animal found near Paynesville showed it to be more than 90 percent wolf, but it also had a percentage of dog DNA. It is not illegal to keep wolf-dog hybrids, so it is possible that the animal had escaped from captivity. He’s not aware if the DNA of the Silver Lake animal had been tested.
As for the Renville County lone wolf, Netland agreed with Wiltrout: It would require a DNA analysis to confirm that it was a wolf rather than a wolf-dog hybrid. He’s viewed photos and video of the Renville County lone wolf and agrees it has all the characteristics of a wolf. It’s certainly not a coyote, he said.
It is not unusual for wolves to wander from the forests of northern Minnesota. Prior to European settlement, wolves were a part of the southern Minnesota landscape as well.
Netland noted that his office receives reports of animals associated with the Northwoods being spotted in the area from time to time. This year there have been sightings of bobcats in the Minnesota River Valley of Renville County. Through the years there have also been sightings of wandering moose and elk in the region, he said.
There are more frequent reports of bears in the region. This past year his office received a number of different reports of bear sightings.
Deputy Koplin is aware of previous sightings of wandering moose and even elk in Renville County, and in one case a roadkill bear near Morton.
“Now a wolf. It’s not something we see every day,” she laughed.