For generations, his kind was ruthlessly hunted down, his compatriots killed, his land taken. Now he has walked hundreds of miles risking life and capture to reclaim a wild stretch of homeland. His name is Journey and he's a two-and-a-half-year-old grey wolf.
Go south, young wolf
At the dawn of the 20th century, ranchers and hunters exterminated California's wolves. Ninety years ago, a Lassen County trapper killed the state's last grey wolf and since then not a single wolf has roamed the Golden State's wild. Until now.
Early last year, Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife tagged an adolescent wolf known as OR7 with a GPS collar. They've been tracking OR7's movements ever since. Thanks to the collar and trail cameras, Oregon confirmed that on 28 December 2011, young OR7 crossed into California: the first grey wolf to set paws in the state since 1924.
Everyone expected OR7 to head back to Oregon. Instead, he's headed further south into California's Siskiyou County. The young wolf has travelled almost 800 miles to reclaim a stretch of his threatened species' habitat. In tribute, the Portland, Oregon-based conservation group, Oregon Wild, held a contest to rename OR7. The winning name: Journey.
Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?
According to the California Department of Fish and Game, wolves pose next to no threat to people. But that's been no safeguard against ranchers who kill them to protect livestock. Due to overhunting, grey wolves were put on the US endangered species list in 1974. But in December 2011 the Obama administration removed the species, which had recovered from the brink of extinction. Now protection is in the hands of individual states, which cattle ranchers and farmers can lobby more easily for relaxed protections.
Fortunately, any wolf that enters into California will still be protected as endangered, ensuring safe travel for Journey and any other Oregonian grey wolves that follow his lead. Since Journey crossed the border, California's Department of Fish and Game has said that while they are not intentionally reintroducing wolves, they will protect any that enter the state.
Whether or not Journey remains in California, his quest reminds us of the resiliency of the natural world. The young wolf may have no idea, but he's captured the imagination and hearts of citizens of the Pacific north-west, both young and old. Here's an eight-year-old Oregon girl's depiction of Journey and friends in the wild.
Further reading: If you'd like to track Journey's adventure and learn more about grey wolves, the California Department of Fish and Game has set up a website about him.
Take action: Following the White House's decision to remove grey wolves from the endangered species list, we can all help to make sure that wolves are not hunted to near extinction again.