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First Gray Wolf To Call CA Home In 99 Years Memorialized By Susan Orlean

A lean gray wolf wearing a purple tracking collar sits among pine needles and light forest underbrush gazing toward the camera.
OR-93 sitting among pine needles.
(California Department of Fishing and Wildlife)
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He was pulled from the history books, out of place and out of time.

OR-93, a gray wolf named for his native Oregon, defied time and space; he trekked from outside of Portland and made his way 900 miles deep into California, a state where his kind have not been spotted in 99 years.

It was a voyage that passed through sixteen counties and, also impressively, across three major highways. He was born in April 2019 into the White River Pack of Oregon. He died in Kern County in November after being struck by a vehicle.

For a wolf like him, it was a trip of myth. Susan Orlean, who memorialized OR-93 in an obituary for the New Yorker, spoke to Morning Edition’s Susanne Whatley about his life, drive to find a partner, and death.

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“He probably wasn't going to find his mate ... which is what his journey was all about,” Orlean said. “But it's still sort of remarkable that he made the journey this far into new territory for a wolf.”

It was a journey that reads like an epic poem. Which, appropriately, earned him the name “Ulysses” from Amaroq Weiss, the senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It would have been a good name except for one thing,” Weiss said in Orlean’s New Yorker piece. “Ulysses managed to come back from his journey.”

He was cut down young, unlike Ulysses, who managed his return to Ithaca grizzled and unrecognizable. Ulysses, the wolf, although not human, lives on in the yarn spun by Orlean, who understands the above distinction while also recognizing the wild canine’s right to be remembered.

“I’ve written a lot about animals and I don't confuse them with being people but I do believe they can have lives that are noteworthy and in this case, his death was unfortunately at such a young age,” Orlean told Whatley.

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Gray wolves once freely roamed up and down the West Coast before the early 20th century, when the population was decimated by hunters and trappers.

In 1974, gray wolves became federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. In 2020, gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service once it was determined that their numbers were “stable.”

However, they remain protected.

“Gray wolves are listed as endangered pursuant to California’s Endangered Species Act (CESA),” reads guidance from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.” It is unlawful to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or capture gray wolves.”

OR-93 made it as far south as Ventura County. The last time a gray wolf made it this far south was in 1922, when one was documented in San Bernardino County.

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OR-93 was two years old.

LAist relies on your reader support.
Your tax-deductible gift today powers our reporters and keeps us independent. We rely on you, our reader, not paywalls to stay funded because we believe important news and information should be freely accessible to all.