It was just chance that Dave Hubley and Tim Caverly had a video camera with them in a pickup truck when they saw an animal trotting along a road west of Maine's Baxter State Park last weekend.
They believe the image they captured with the camera could offer rare evidence of a wolf living in the state.
Wolf sightings are not unusual in Maine, but having hard evidence of one is rare indeed. A male wolf was inadvertently trapped in Aurora in 1996, and a male wolf was shot in the Moosehead area in 1993.
Caverly, former manager of the nearby Allagash Wilderness Waterway, and Hubley, president of a support group called the Allagash Alliance, had planned Saturday to film areas of the waterway where they're concerned that the wilderness is disappearing.
But by the time Hubley, of Buxton, stopped the truck and jumped out with the camera, the animal had run into the woods. Caverly went into the woods after it, hoping to find evidence such as hair or tracks.
He flushed the animal back into the road, where Hubley was waiting with his camera. He captured 20 minutes of video and got as close as 70 feet to the animal, which caused him concern.
''I realized I had no idea what the thing would do,'' he said. ''But it wasn't interested in me.''
On the videotape, Hubley can be heard whistling and shouting to get the animal's attention. Several times, it turned toward him, looking at the camera. Eventually, the animal walked off down the road, and Hubley said, ''Go on your way. I'll stop bothering you.''
State wildlife officials hope to live-trap the animal, but even if it's captured, determining exactly what it is will present a challenge. DNA tests will only eliminate possibilities, said Ken Elowe, director of resources at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. A key element will be the animal's behavior.
''The way this is hanging around people, it's just not acting like a wild animal. On the other hand, we're not going to shut that possibility out,'' he said.
Evidence showed the Moosehead wolf, which was spotted near campers, was a captive released into the wild.
In contrast, the Aurora wolf bore the marks of a wild life. Its teeth had been broken months or even years earlier. Its claws were worn. Its last meal had been beaver, a wolflike choice. DNA tests showed it wasn't a red wolf, a coyote or a domestic dog, but could not rule out the possibility it was a wolf-dog hybrid.
It would be difficult, but not impossible, for wolves to wander into Maine from Canada, Elowe said. ''I'd be surprised if we don't have a few wolves running around,'' he said.
Wolves from Quebec, however, are generally dark in color. Hubley's wolf was a dirty white with dark patches. That indicates ancestors from the far north, where wolves' fur is light, Elowe said.
Another factor arguing against this being a wild wolf is its behavior, he said. It was first seen about two weeks ago by a couple who operate a campground and store just south of the Matagamon gate to Baxter Park. Like Hubley, they made a videotape.
''Those people gave it food. It was even eating dog biscuits,'' said Kevin Stevens, regional wildlife biologist in Enfield. ''On the video, you can see it walking up to a yearling moose; it got nose to nose. The moose didn't know what to do.''
It's possible the animal was a pet that was released into the wild by an owner because it had become troublesome, or perhaps it escaped on its own. Another theory is that it was released as a grass-roots effort to reintroduce wolves to Maine, a controversial topic that has been hotly debated in recent years.
A forester spotted the animal on Pinkham Road, northwest of Baxter Park and west of Munsungan Stream, on Thursday around noon.
''He watched it for 10 or 15 minutes, got within 40 or 50 feet,'' said Arlen Lovewell, assistant regional biologist. ''He threw it a sandwich, and it ate it. It had very little fear of people. That's why we wonder.''
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