Animal killed in western Mass. may be state’s first wolf, officials say. By The Patriot Ledger. GateHouse News Service.

It might have been a wolf or a hybrid. If a wolf, it might have been a released pet. That’s what they are now saying about the Vermont canid shot a year ago and turned out to be a wolf. It was probably a pet.

I wouldn’t be too quick to believe that, given their strong incentive to hope these are not wild wolves.

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Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

25 Responses to Animal killed in western Mass. may be state’s first wolf, officials say

  1. avatar John Glowa says:

    Certainly the killing of a wolf in western Massachusetts would come as no surprise to me. The area in which it was found is well within dispersal distance of wolves in southern Ontario and Quebec and I would suggest that wolves are breeding in the northeast, given the number of dead wolves in the past 15 years. The animal was virtually identical in size to other wolves killed in the northeast. Maybe it was a good thing that this animal killed some sheep. Maybe killing livestock will be what it takes for the state and federal governments to publicly acknowledge that wolves are back in the northeast. I predict that DNA testing will show that it was a wolf and that the government will likely once again weasel word any findings to suggest that it was a captive animal-again witout any proof. The conspracy theorists out there who are claiming that any wolves in the northeast are released captives are going to have a hard time explaining away the number of animals killed from locations as far apart as northern NY, northeast VT, eastern Maine and now northwest Mass. FYI, contrary to the spin put on by the federal government, our initial review of the Oct. 2006 Vermont wolf file indicates that the animal’s genetic make-up was exactly what we would expect in naturally occurring wolves in the northeast.

  2. avatar Jean Ossorio says:

    It will be very interesting to follow this story and see what DNA testing reveals about the probable ancestry of this animal.

    Ralph, did they ever reveal anything about the ancestry of the wolf killed in Vermont, i.e. whether it was descended from wolves from eastern Canada or from elsewhere?

  3. avatar Buffaloed says:

    I was in Shelburne just a couple of weeks ago with my new wife, who grew up nearby, and wondered whether a wolf could make a living there without getting into trouble. I didn’t see any wildlife other than a raccoon, that unfortunately ran in front of me and I killed 🙁 (It sucks that I accidentally killed the only wildlife I saw there)

    There were stories about moose passing through the area and I was also told that there were a number of deer which I never saw any sign of. Coming from Idaho it seems that a wolf would have a difficult time there. There just didn’t seem to be enough game or habitat to sustain a wolf population. I would think that there would have to be some serious rule changes to allow a population of wolves to survive there. I could be wrong but it just doesn’t seem likely that it would come to pass in the areas that I saw.

    I do get the impression that people there value wildlife more than they do out here because they have little of it and that may lead to those rule changes but it doesn’t take but a few people that hate the idea to really make it a difficult proposition there since we all know that the wolf issue is more about attitudes of people than it is about wolves themselves.

  4. avatar Jean Ossorio says:

    John, thanks for the info on the genetics of the Vermont animal–guess our posts were pending at the same time. Also, I’m glad to hear that folks in the Northeast are treating agency pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism. Given the current leadership at the top of USFWS, it is unfortunately very necessary.

  5. avatar Jon Way says:

    I say it everytime there is a post about New England canids but, so sorry to be repetitive, but until states in the northeast do something to protect eastern coyotes (who look very similar to eastern wolves b.c they are likely hybrids between western coyotes and eastern wolves) I believe it is an absolute joke to expect wolves back in New England. However, it is certainly biologically feasible for them to live around here, even in populous Massachusetts. As famous scientist Dave Mech says, “Wolves can live just about anywhere that people accept their presence.”
    But (I add) they can’t live where people are allowed to shoot them (or a similar looking species) with few restrictions…

  6. avatar Howard says:

    Despite the fact that breeding wolf populations occur within 70 miles of the US border (and 70 miles is nothing to a wolf), and there is plenty of habitat in upper New England for wolves that make it across the agriculture belt of southeast Canada alive (admittedly a difficult proposition), a wolf in the American Northeast is still viewed as something completely unnatural. The prevailing assumption seems to be that wolves naturally recolonizing habitat in New England is something that can’t/won’t/shouldn’t happen, and so any wolf that appears is automatically assumed to be a released captive and the event filed away under “weird animal story”, like someone in New York City finding a Burmese python curled up in their bathroom. Now, I’m not saying that the wolves in question should automatically be assumed to be wild either, but the fact that the state agencies always immediately dismiss them as “pets” definitely indicates a strong desire to not deal with the possibility of wolf recolonization. I seem to remember a few years back that the New Hampshire state government officially opposed federal wolf reintroduction, but, that the state was prepared to protect the wolf should the species naturally recolonize the state on their own. I like the idea of natural recolonization over federal reintroduction–in theory–because I believe the public would be much more accepting of wolf presence if happened naturally without federal intervention (at least in some places, and New England may be one of them…in other places this is not true), but I am coming to believe that natural recolonization will not happen (at least under present conditions). Every time a wolf shows up over the border, it ends up dead and the state laughs at the notion that it may have been a wild wolf. Laws concerning coyote hunting/trapping ( although in many places, all you need is a general hunting license and you can kill coyotes 365 days a year, no limit, few or no restrictions on method) are not modified in potential wolf territory to try to avoid accidental take of wolves, and on the other side of the border, Canada’s wolf policies make it extremely difficult for a wolf to get through southern Ontario or Quebec alive. The Canadian “guantlet” zone, is, I believe, a major cause of slow wolf dispersal, but as more bona fide wolves show up in northern states, it is definite possible or even probable that some wild wolves are making it to the US. Once they get here, they should be protected under the ESA, but that will only happen if the states acknowledge the possibility of the wolf’s return and take steps to avoid accidental (and intentional) killing of wolves. In a way, you can’t blame the coyote hunters who end up shooting wolves… if the state constantly denies there are any wolves in the woods, does not even list the wolf as a state endangered species (Vermont, NH, and Maine do NOT list the wolf on their respective states’ endangered species lists), and makes a big deal about how big some eastern coyotes are, and you see a canid out in the woods, it may not even occur to you that it could be something other than a big coyote. On the other side of the coin, a person can very easily intentionally shoot a wolf and then plead ignorance. Either way, the states seem to be simply ignoring any possibility of natural wolf recovery, and whatever the motive behind a wolf kill, the officials just ship the body off to a lab (for several years) and then never speak of it again. I admittedly didn’t search every nook and cranny of the websites, but I checked the official state wildlife/game agency websites of Vermont, NH, and Maine and found no mention of wolves on any of them. In fact, the New Hampshire and Vermont pages have state mammal lists and neither lists the wolf, which raises and eyebrow because New Hampshire’s list refers to animals that are residents or VISITORS, and Vermont’s list explicitly states that it includes historic species “not documented in Vermont in the past 25 years” if there is REASONABLE EXPECTATION of their return. It then states that extinct or extirpated species are not included on the list. Apparently, despite the presence of wolves within dispersing distance and several recent confirmed wolves shot in the NE, Vermont does not give the wolf any reasonable expectation of return. Both states do mention wolf genes in eastern coyotes. I will note, however, that both Vermont and New Hampshire’s coyote pages stress that coyotes are important parts of the ecosystem, feed primarily on small animals (not trophy bucks), are not much of a threat to humans or livestock, may help farmers by preying on rodents and rabbits, should NOT be exterminated, and that coyote reduction programs (like those still occurring in the West) do NOT work. Vermont’s coyote page states coyotes are not a significant cause of deer declines, and New Hampshire states that poison is not legal and that people can greatly reduce conflict with coyotes by not leading livestock carcasses lying around, using guard dogs, and confining pregnant stock and newborns. I get the impression (please correct me if I’m mistaken) that within potential wolf territory in New England, federal reintroduction is greatly opposed, but hatred of the wolf itself is not nearly as prevalent as in some other places. In addition I think many people (and if so, this contradicts my earlier statement about coyote hunters) believe that wolves DO occur in their states and that they aren’t particularly uncommon. Having said this, the state agencies themselves don’t want to deal with the politics of wolf recovery or the objections of some sportsmen groups, and so, are content to say there are no wolves/possibility of wolf recovery and adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance on questionable canids.

  7. avatar John Glowa says:

    Howard:
    I think you’ve pretty much nailed it. As I mentioned in a comment to another article, two months ago, I and three others from the northeast petitioned the federal government to regulate (under the ESA) the commerce and taking of coyotes, wolf/coyote hybrids, eastern wolves and eastern wolf/gray wolf hybrids in much of NY, VT, NH and ME due to their similarity in appearance to gray wolves. We have received no response to the petition. If so-called “coyotes” were under federal regulation, the feds could put in place measures to minimize the killing of wolves. Right now, in Maine you aren’t even required to report a “coyote” that you shoot, so since neither the State of Maine nor the federal government even recognize the presence or possible presence of wolves, it would be difficult if not impossible to prosecute someone for killing wolf. The legal/political system that is supposed to protect wolves is a joke. Hopefully, the wolf will have the last laugh.

  8. avatar Justin says:

    Look, I’m from upstate New York and would like wolves there as much as anyone, but I think everyone is jumping overboard saying that this is proof wolves are recolonizing the Northeast. It probably was a pet: current estimates are that their are 440,000 wolf-dog hybrids in the U.S as pets and if you have ever seen a hybrid, telling it apart from a real wolf is tough even close up. Like any pet, they get loose all the time and cause trouble—-actually they’re a greater nuisance than pure-bred wolves in many areas. Also, if wolves were frequently dispersing to the Northeast like everyone claims, there would be packs everywhere. There is more than enough habitat and prey (similar to the upper Great Lakes that carries 4000 wolves) and would probably be quite obvious. The problem is that, like everyone has said, southern Canada is a gauntlet for wolves and in addition they’d have to cross the St. Lawrence River. Maybe a few make it occasionally, but not enough to start a population. Also, most people here seem to misunderstand the coyote issue. If gray wolves colonize the NE, they more than likely wouldn’t breed w/ coyotes because they don’t elsewhere, so protecting the coyote would be useless. If eastern wolves (which in reality are red wolves) colonize the NE, there would be so many coyotes that a hybrid swarm would ensue and there would be little wolf left (see red wolves in SE and eastern wolves south of Algonquin for examples). Now, I would be the first to admit that state agencies drag their feet when it comes to admitting stuff like this (e.g. cougars East of the Mississippi) but wolves probably are not colonizing the NE and won’t unless Canada’s policies change and coyotes are intensively managed. Also, the ESA doesn’t protect hybrids, so protecting coyotes in the NE is mute. Besides, why would a state agency prefer to tell people that it was a pet? Do you think that makes people more comforted knowing their neighbors keep large predators as pets? I’m surprised the story even made the headlines.

  9. avatar Sally Roberts says:

    These articles about wolves in the Northeast are quite comical. First they say it is the first wolf in the state in decades…then go on to say it was probably someone’s pet. In that case, it definitely is not the first wolf in the state in decades since many people have wolf-hybrids in the state. I understand being skeptical of the federal government (and I am seriously skeptical on all fronts), but on this one, I would have to say my guess is these are pets…think Montana sheep-killing wolf-dog.

  10. avatar JB says:

    Justin, I’m a bit confused by your statement, “If gray wolves colonize the NE, they more than likely wouldn’t breed w/ coyotes because they don’t elsewhere, so protecting the coyote would be useless.”

    I’m not saying that I’m for protecting coyotes, but, if wolves do not breed with coyotes, then this would be the perfect opportunity to protect them (coyotes), as wolves generally kill coyotes as competitors. Thus, if you protect the coyote from human-caused mortality you also protect the wolf and the wolf, in turn, kills the coyote.

    Personally, I don’t think this scenario is likely, but was simply wondering about your logic?

    JB

  11. avatar John Glowa says:

    Justin:
    I don’t agree that the Massachusetts canid probably was a pet and I certainly don’t agree that a government official should make this claim absent any evidence to support it. Once that is done, the newspaper prints it-and of course, everyone believes what they read in the newspaper-right? I don’t know how frequently wolves disperse south across the St. Lawrence River, but it obviously does happen. Moose, fisher and lynx have crossed the St. Lawrence from south to north, so why not wolves from north to south? I don’t agree that it would be very difficult for wolves to do so. From Quebec’s Papineau-Labelle Reserve to NY is only sixty miles. A wolf could cover that in 2-3 days and probably not even be seen. Your conclusion that “wolves probably are not colonizing the NE” is unsupported by any facts. New York is a hotbed of wolf reports which is not surprising given its available habitat, prey and proximity to wolf range in Canada. Some of the wolves and possible wolves killed in NY include: (1) 1968-a wolf killed by a car in Rockwood (the skull of this animal is in the Smithsonian); (2) Dec. 2001-a wolf killed by a coyote hunter in Edinburg (the DNA of this animal proved it was gray wolf); (3) April 2005-a wolf killed in Sterling (DNA showed it to be a cross between northern rockies and great lakes types); (4) March 1955-a possible wolf killed on the NYS thruway in Utica; (5) Sept. 1963-a possible wolf killed near Deer Pond; (6) Oct. 1965-a possible wolf killed near Moose Pond; and, (7) Feb 1966-a canid claimed to have been a wolf killed by a game warden at Deer River Flow. Your comment that the ESA doesn’t protect hybrids is not totally accurate. For example, the wolf/coyote hybrids in Minnesota/Wisconsin/Michigan were protected by federal law and were considered wolves for purposes of de-listing. In answer to your question about why a state agency would prefer to tell the public that an animal was a pet-the simple fact is that the northeast states don’t want wolves and either live in denial or want their residents to remain uninformed and in blissful ignorance. As long as wild wolves are not present, the states don’t actually have to do anything to protect them like curtail coyote hunting/trapping, or develop management plans. As more and more wolves are killed, this state of denial is getting more and more ludicrous. I’m not surprised that the Mass. animal made the headlines given the fact that it could be the first wild wolf known to be in the state in some 100 years.

  12. avatar Justin says:

    John,

    You may want to get your facts straight. The wolves in the upper Great Lakes are not wolf-coyote hybrids—-they are gray wolves that have recently been found to have some eastern wolf DNA but that was discovered long after they were listed (assuming the eastern wolf is another species—different issue). Gray wolves and coyotes don’t hybridize. Read the ESA—hybrids aren’t protected, that’s why people tried to get the red wolf delisted. Also, I find it funny that you list so many reports of wild wolves from New York. Don’t you think if dispersal was that common there would be packs? Like I said, it may happen, but it’s not common enough for there to be packs. Take a look at the work out of Algonquin Park—-wolves there don’t get far from the park before getting killed or hybridizing w/ coyotes. Also, your 2005 example proves my point—it had DNA from wolves from different areas, so more than likely it was a pet (how else would it have gotten there, the Thruway?). Also, ‘supposed’ wolf kill is much different than an actual wolf kill. Try not to base your evidence on speculation as well. The 60s were also 40 years ago, I think by now there would be a population.

    JB,

    People are currently arguing to protect the coyote in the NE because they have eastern wolf DNA in them. My point was that if gray wolves are dispersing to the NE, then that particular justification for protecting coyotes is void. Protecting coyotes to limit incidental take makes sense, but there are too many interest groups that would never allow the coyote to be protected.

  13. avatar John Glowa says:

    Justin:
    Just one more comment-
    Read the Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf. You will see that it acknowledges that a high percentage of Great Lakes wolves are wolf/coyote hybrids. The feds’ delisting of wolves and implementation of the ESA and the recovery plan all considered these hybrids to be wolves for the purpose of delisting. How do you know there aren’t already packs of wolves in the northeast? Don’t believe everything people tell you. My understanding of wolf recolonization is that pack formation can take years if not decades. Your assumption about wolves dispersing from Algonquin Park is just that-an assumption. Dispersing wolves could leave the park and be in NY in a matter of a few days-and who would know? The 2005 Sterling NY wolf had DNA from both the northern Rockies and Great Lakes. There was never any explanation for how wolves from these two populations interbred-except to speculate that it occurred artificially. Science tells us that wolves from these two populations are within dispersal distance of each other and that the Great Lakes population is certainly within dispersal distance of northern NY. No one is arguing to protect coyotes in the northeast because they have wolf DNA in them. We are seeking to protect wolves and if there must also be some form of protection of coyotes to prevent wolves from being killed, then protect the coyotes. If there’s anything I’ve learned about wolves it’s to never underestimate them.

  14. avatar Justin says:

    John, a few more comments from me too,

    First, the Eastern timber wolf does not exist in the Midwest. It has been reclassified to the Great Plains wolf (C. lupus nubilus) and the eastern timber wolf currently is only found in a tiny sliver from southern Ontario to perhaps southern Quebec.

    Since the Eastern timber wolf recovery plan was formed, scientists have found that wolves bred w/ eastern wolves in the Midwest, not coyotes. Eastern timber wolves and coyotes have similar DNA and it wasn’t until the development of more powerful molecular markers that they were differentiated (the species issue is one that I don’t even have enough time to go into). If you want sources, look up

    Wilson et al. 2000
    Wilson et al. 2003
    Nowak 2002
    Kyle et al. 2007

    And why are you questioning my knowledge of wolves in the NE. How do you know they are there? If there are enough dispersing wolves, populations can actually recover quickly, such as Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan. How long did it take 20 wolves in Idaho to become 788? If all the reports you had from the 60s were true, the that means there has been 40 years of wolf colonization in the NE, but I don’t see the wolves. Check out the work by the Theberges out of Algonquin—–dispersing wolves from there don’t get far before human-induced mortality.

    By the way I don’t believe everything people tell me—-but I’m from upstate New York and know that if there are wolves then the plentiful trappers, hunters, hikers, campers, etc. would be seeing them all the time, which just doesn’t happen. Again, I’m not saying wolves can’t disperse to the NE, but landscape conditions suggest it’s too hard for too many to do it.

    Also, your telling me that the Sterling wolf was a wild cross between northwestern wolves (not Rocky Mountain) and Great Plains wolves in the areas that coincide (i.e. Manitoba) and promptly dispersed to northern NY? I would expect one in the Dakotas maybe, but not NY.

    By the way, the one caveat is that if a wild gray wolf was in Massachusetts, it wouldn’t be native. Red wolves were native to that area (see above sources and don’t trust the USFWS maps).

  15. avatar Mark Letham says:

    This is all very good info but it pales in comparison to the MT Lion shot and kiiled by a Farmer in Camden NY a few weeks back.. Many village residents had observed it including local police officers. The NYS DEC disputed the presence of the animal from the beginning. Several reports inthe high peaks wilderness of the Adirondacks have been rreported in the past few years with deer carcasses openeed at the neck and then covered with debris for a leter meal.. No question thta the Cougar is back.

    Now, here is the kicker. The lion shot by the farmer in Camden NY had a DEC Tag on one of it’s ears.. Do I hear budgetary impact in this?

  16. avatar Salle says:

    Ahem…

    Genetics aside, one of the greatest barriers to wolves migrating from Canada across the St. Lawrence river is that in the little strip of boundary land north of the river is a major wolf hunting ground in Canada. They might have all the other abilities to migrate across in winter but the fact that serious wolf hunting takes place along that marginal corridor presents a major inhibitor for such activity. If there were a migration to the eastern states, from anywhere, it would likely be from the great lakes region currently rather than from the north.

  17. avatar Justin says:

    Mark,

    Complete agreement here that there’s a high probability of cougars in the state. I’d like to know more because I’m from that area but stuck in Idaho so I don’t have my usual updates anymore. Hate to sound like a broken record, but can’t rule the pet possibility, but if its has state tags that makes it very interesting.

  18. avatar Mark Letham says:

    many reports in Mass of cougars around the Quabin Reservoir area ( excuse the spelling) Also, in areas of Vermont. They do exist in New Brunswick so an expansion into some of the woldest and protected forest and mountain areas of this country does not seem exaggerated.
    Remember, the Adirondack Park alone is BIGGER than Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and yes Yeloowstone combined.. FACT!.. A few years back while skiing Sugarloaf Maine I was truly amazed at the expanse of forest and mountains in that fairly big state with thousands of square miles of nothing but woods and mountains. And who say’s that there isn’t enough foor for cougar and wolf. BULL! The deer heards are at historic highs..
    I have 15 to 20 Whitetails in my yard several mornings ( and evenings each week) They think they are at ‘Old Country Buffet’ the way they eat my Shrubs and other delectible delighs I have planted and watch mature. There are so many deer that they are in the City of Syracuse and other municipalities. They are literally everywhere.

    Wolves in Vermont with nothing to eat???? I go up to Stowe freguently and fighting the deer that spring acrooss Rt 22 and Routes 100 and others is very often harder thatn fighting the snowy road conditions.. Hey, the Moose are back in force throughout the Northeast so why not cougar and wolves.

    The NYS Dept. of Env. Conservation is a master at cover up. Let’s not forget the Wolf shot outside Saratoga County in 05 that was DNA confirmed.. No captive wolf hear; no hybrid.. WOLF!

    Get up in the Northcreel Area od Warren County and talk to the ol’ timers and \hear their stories… about wolves, coyotes and mixed doubles.. They will tell you B.S. the wolf and cougar are absolutely back in NYS. and have been for awhile….. not prodigious populations but they do have a presense.. And how about the DEC officer up on Rt. 3 in Cranbarry Lake ( nnorthern NY ) that watched as a cougar stepped out inthe road while he was driving back in 04. Speculation? Nope!

  19. avatar Moose says:

    Great Lakes wolves are not coyote hybrids. The chances of more than one migrating to the NE area is very, very, small….anyone here been to Northern ILL, IND., or Ohio? the gauntlet of roads, farm land, etc…odds are agin them survivng that. Any wild wolves in NY/VT/NH came from Quebec.

    Salle, what effect does a hunting season have on whether wolves migrate across the St L Seaway? Doesn’t make sense.

  20. avatar WestMassGuy says:

    Buffaloed , You couldn’t be further from the truth! I live in a town that borders Shelburne Falls. I too have seen a wolf in the area. In fact, I saw one yesterday morning! They are here. This talk about them being escaped pets is BS!!! We also have a TON of wildlife. There is certainly plenty to sustain a wolf population. Massachusetts has had a ban on all trapping for several years now, which has caused the populations of beavers, coyotes, fox, etc, to explode. I can’t wait for the “official DNA results”. I’m sure the state will fill us with more BS. Just like the cougars which they deny exist in Mass.

  21. avatar Buffaloed says:

    I stand corrected. I was there for only 10 days but I didn’t see any wildlife. It looked like there might be good habitat but I didn’t see any sign of anything except dead raccoons and possums. I was told that there are numerous deer, but I saw no sign.

    There is a real contrast with Idaho because Idaho has a lot of undisturbed wilderness where a core population of wolves could disperse from and Massachusetts does not. That doesn’t mean that wolves would need to have nearly as large of territories but it also doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t get into trouble with livestock either (not that they really do here but you wouldn’t know that if you listened to a rancher).

    I’m just publicly speculating….. that’s all.

  22. avatar WestMassGuy says:

    I was speaking with some locals about this topic today, and I have heard from several sources that wolves have been seen in several neighboring towns. One person I spoke to told me that he had seen 2 wolves in the area about 2 years ago. Both were wearing ear tags and tracking collars. Could there be a covert reintroduction program going on? I recall a few years ago, when a man named Doug Dawson, who lived in nearby wendell, mass reported a cougar in his yard. The fish and wildlife people refused to admit that there was a cougar in the area. Mr. Dawson sent the cougar scat to Umass Amherst for testing. The results showed that it was in fact cougar scat. Mass Wildlife attempted to discredit dawson by stating that the cougar was a pet that had been released. This animal was never known to be shot or captured. Therefore, I’m quite sure that there are cougars in Massachusetts.

  23. WestMassGuy,

    You know there is a biologist who posts here. He tracks and studies Mass. coyotes and radio collars them. Mass. coyotes are pretty big.

    John Way do you want to weigh in?

  24. avatar WestMassGuy says:

    Anyone heard anything new about this?

  25. avatar John Glowa says:

    Nothing new about the Mass. animal. We’ve submitted a FOIA request to the feds about it. We plan to submit a similar request to the state. Regarding the animal killed in VT in October 2006, we’ve recently learned that its mitochondrial DNA was an exaxct match with the wolf killed in the Adirondacks in December 2001. That animal was never proven to have been a captive animal. The evidence of naturally occurring wolves in the northeast continues to grow.

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