Are wolves coming to Central Illinois?

By Beau Ebenezer

January 2, 2014 Updated Jan 3, 2014 at 2:59 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Packs of wolves may be making their way to your neck of the woods.

The endangered animal has made appearances throughout Illinois over the last few years.

But how close to Central Illinois will they get?

The Illinois wolf population was hunted to extinction more than 100 years ago.

But now, sightings of the gray wolf are beginning to pop up more often across the state.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources have confirmed at least five wolf sightings in the state over the last three years, and this may only be the beginning.

Naturalists at the Wildlife Prairie Park in Hanna City believe Illinois has the potential environment to draw in wolf packs from neighboring states over the coming years.

"Their territory can range from anywhere from 50 to 1,000 miles, so depending on their food sources, they may travel outside their typical boundaries," said Wildlife Prairie Park's Melissa Sauder. "Illinois has a lot of deer, which would be an ideal prey item for them. It is definitely possible."

The IDNR said they are already drafting plans on how to manage wolf packs in case they do become established.

A 2013 study from Southern Illinois University showed that only 14 percent of Illinois land is suitable habitat for wolves, which prefer forests.

The northwest, west-central Illinois and the southern tip of the state were deemed most suitable.

However, Wildlife Prairie Park officials said wolves are very adaptable and could make a home wherever they choose.