Crying wolf: Animal sighting in Gorham probably a case of mistaken identity

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Last month, on Cherry Hill trail in Gorham, a hiker flagged down a Phoenix reporter, who was also walking the trail, and reported seeing a wolf with a rabbit in its mouth. The hiker was adamant it was not a coyote, but a wolf.

But is it possible for a wolf to be in Gorham and be spotted in the woods off a busy road, near Sebago Brewing Co.? Some say it’s possible, while others say no way because there haven’t been wolves in Maine for more than a century.

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A poorly lit and fuzzy file image of a wolf, supposedly in Maine. (Courtesy Maine Wolf Coalition)

Scott Lindsay, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the department does occasionally get reports of wolves in southern Maine.

“Is it possible? Yes,” Lindsay said. “An animal with four legs that is very good with covering a lot of territory could conceivably get to Maine. But is it likely? No, it’s very unlikely. But it’s not impossible.”

Lindsay said every report is taken seriously, but he is “99 percent sure” that the person in Gorham saw a coyote.

Scott Nystrom, Gorham’s animal control officer, said there have been no recent reports to him about wolves or even coyotes on Cherry Hill.

“We do get sightings of foxes that people see,” Nystrom said.

IFW’s Lindsay said coyotes are widespread in Maine, and often can be found in urban and suburban areas. Wolves and coyotes look very similar, he said, and all the coyotes in Maine have some level of wolf DNA in them.

Another reason it’s safe to assume there are no wolves in Maine, he said, is that they were killed off in the late 1800s, which allowed coyotes to migrate in and populate. Lindsay said if wolves had made their way into Maine, there would also have been confirmed reports along the way in upstate New York and western New England.

“They get occasional sightings, but no documented reports,” Lindsay said. “It’s unlikely that wolves are in Montana in 2021 and, bang, they are in Cumberland County, Maine, in 2022. There is going to be some progression that will be documented in between.”

Others, particularly those interested in wolf recovery, believe there are wolves in Maine.

John Glowa, president of the Maine Wolf Coalition, said all of New England is “within dispersal distance” for wolves from Canada and the Great Lakes region, so they could be passing through the state.

“There’s a potential for a wolf to be anywhere in Maine at any time,” Glowa said. “You could have one in your backyard.”

In the case of the Gorham “sighting,” however, Glowa agreed with Lindsay that it was most likely a coyote since at any given time there are between 10,000 and 16,000 coyotes in Maine. 

“But never say never,” Glowa added. “Wolves have been surprising people for quite a number of years with their ability to travel.”