ST ALBANS – At 7:18 a.m Wednesday, a resident on North Main Street made an unusual report to police describing a wolf spotted in their driveway. A subsequent police report confirms the sighting which was described simply as an “Animal problem. Wolf in driveway.”
Over the last several years, there have been a steadily increasing number of wolf and other canid sightings reported in Vermont generally, and in the Cold Hollow region specifically. The Cold Hollow Chronicle has covered many of these stories including one of the most notable reports exploring the return of wolves to the region was published by the Wolf Conservation Society in February of 2020. Nevertheless, in spite of the mounting evidence that wolves – or large, wolf-like animals – are on the rise in Vermont, many Vermont state officials continue to deny the existence of a growing wolf population.
However, since the late 1990s, local residents and tourists have continued to report a number of wolf sightings (and “werewolf” sightings). Excluding the possibility of werewolves, the question still remains; if the animals spotted by witnesses are not wolves, what are they?
According to a recent article published in the Montpelier Time-Argus, the animals being seen throughout Vermont are “coywolves”: a type of hybrid animal consisting of wolf, coyote, and dog, genetics.
“They certainly are in Vermont,” said Louis Porter, commissioner for the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. “There’s a continuum of canid (a mammal from the dog family) species that go all the way from coyotes to Eastern wolves. Any individual (animal) can fall on that continuum depending on what their genetic makeup is.”
Chris Bernier, a biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife, also confirms, “We’ve had at least one case where it was pretty definitively determined to be a wolf-coyote hybrid.” The creature Bernier is referring to was discovered in Glover in 1997. “It was a 72-pound animal,” he said. “The DNA analysis at that time suggested that it was an Eastern wolf-coyote hybrid.”
But a 72-pound coyote would be rare, as even large coyotes generally range in size from 35-55lbs.
Then, in 2006, a 92-pound gray wolf was confirmed to in Troy, Vermont, according to Bernier. “I think it’s pretty clear that the potential for them to be in Vermont is real,” he said. “We know that our coyotes are much larger (than Western coyotes), and this is not just specific to Vermont.”
That same year, 2006, New England folklorist, Joe Citro, published a report made to him by a woman simply identified as Tonya who claimed “she caught motion at the side of the road, she slowed down some more, not wanting to collide with some family pet. What she saw was like a house pet from hell! An enormous, four-legged animal was loping along beside her car. Occasionally it would leer at her, face to face, as she looked back. It wasn’t a dog, she knew that right away. But what was it?” Citro says, “Tonya is convinced she was pursued by a pack of northern Vermont werewolves.”
A less exciting but more believable eye-witness report was made by, Sean Lavin, a resident of Randolph, who claims to have seen the wolf-hybrid several times at his mother-in-law’s residence in Brookfield. He also claims that he photographed the animals on two separate occasions, once in 2014 and again in 2015.
These statements confirm a 2009 report featured in “Biology Letters” that explains how Northeastern coyote skulls are not simply larger versions of their Western relatives, but show additional characteristics similar to wolves.
Closer to the Cold Hollow region another woman provided footage from a cellular that appeared in a YouTube video capturing an animal howl that experts have yet to identify with certainty, noting that it has the characteristics of a wolf howl, but that it is much deeper almost resembling the sound of a moose in rut.
Meanwhile, others such as those in the recently formed Society of the Advancement of Crypto-zoological Research, Education and Discovery (SACRED) remain skeptical. A spokesperson for the group states, “The descriptions we’re hearing from people throughout New England, and especially in Vermont, don’t match up with any known species. We’re not claiming to know what these creatures are, but we are saying that we think there’s more to these reports than just coyotes. Maybe it’s wolves, maybe it’s something else.” ” She went on to state, “There’s just not enough evidence to say for sure one way or another. With that said, there are a few people who are adamant when they describe what they saw as a large creature that walks on two legs with dog-like or wolf-like face. I’m not saying that’s true, but I think these people are sincere about what they’re describing.”
Regardless of the species or hybrid type of animal, experts at Vermont Fish & Wildlife insist that there is no significant risk to livestock or to the public. “We take several reports a year (of coywolves) from folks on average who believe they have seen a wolf or a coyote-wolf,” Bernier is reported to have said.
Mammals of the canid family, ranging from wolf to coyote to hybrid variants, are generally quite peaceful. While there have been some attacks reported, the fear seems to be generated by the unusual size of the animals in Vermont.
“I don’t deem them as a concern for human health and safety,” Bernier said. “That said, any animal given the situation can pose a threat to human health and safety when it’s cornered or sick or hungry in an abnormal way.”
In an article published in the Economist, the author notes that wolves generally avoid humans and speculates that the reason for the increased number of encounters between these hybrid animals and people is due to the coyote DNA making them more tolerant and less reclusive.
While officials laugh off the rumors of “werewolves” and “dogmen” they take sightings of wolves and wolf-hybrids very seriously and are eager to obtain more evidence of their numbers in Vermont. Fish & Wildlife is currently developing an online portal where the public can report rare animal sightings. Until that is a complete, officials request that anyone with any data on these animals contact their offices and make a report.
Wolf Fun Facts
- Wolves have 42 teeth
- The average wolf pack has 5 to 8 wolves
- Wolves can sprint up to 38 miles per hour
- Wolves run on their toes
- Wolf pups have blue eyes until they are around 8 months old
- Wolves mate for life
- Pups are deaf, blind, and weigh just one pound at birth
- An adult wolf can eat approximately 20 pounds of meat at one time
- Wolves can swim up to 8 miles
- Wolves will respond to humans who imitate their howls