A mysterious wolf-like creature was shot and killed May 16 by a family residing in a ranch outside Denton, Montana. Ever since the news and pictures of the animal was made public, wildlife experts and social media users struggled to identify exactly the creature.

"We have no idea what this was until we get a DNA report back," said Bruce Auchly, information manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, CBS19 reported. "It was near a rancher's place, it was shot, and our game wardens went to investigate. The whole animal was sent to our lab in Bozeman. That's the last I ever heard of it."

The animal in question had many physical characteristics of a wolf — long grayish fur, a large head and an elongated snout. At the same time, it had a number of features like large ears, a short torso and a texture of fur that is not commonly seen among wolves.

Wolf-dog Hybrid

A number of wildlife biologists speculated as to what the creature might be if not a pure wolf breed. Ty Smucker, wolf management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said there was a chance the creature was a hybrid, bred from a dog and wolf.

"Several things grabbed my attention when I saw the pictures," Smucker said. "The ears are too big. The legs look a little short. The feet look a little small, and the coat looks weird. There's just something off about it."

"We've had a few instances of wolf/dog hybrids out there. One was out somewhere in eastern central Montana killing sheep like crazy. Finally, we caught it and it turned out to be a hybrid,” he added.

Hybrids created from a wolf and a dog are unique, in that they can create offspring of their own, unlike other hybrids like mules — created by breeding a horse and a donkey — which cannot reproduce. But since wolfdogs are unpredictable, they are mostly bred in captivity and are highly regulated.

"If you have a wolfdog hybrid it's supposed to have a tattoo on a lip, and it's supposed to be registered with the state," Smucker said. "A lot of those people don't bother following regulations."

As a result of private citizens taking it upon themselves to create wolf-dog hybrids without proper regulations, they often struggle to keep the animals in control when they grow up, due to which the creatures are often released into the wild by their owners.

“Every year, thousands of pet wolves or hybrids are abandoned, rescued or euthanized because people purchase an animal they were not prepared to care for,” the International Wolf Center states. “A few facilities exist around the country that take in unwanted canines, but their resources are usually very limited.”

Wolf A mysterious wolf-like creature was shot and killed by a family residing in a ranch outside Denton, Montana, on May 16. In this photo, a young male wolf, shows its teeth as it explores its new enclosure at The Wild Place Project in Bristol, England, March 13, 2014. Photo: Getty Images/ Matt Cardy

Dogman

The hybrid theory is one of the many being floated regarding the identity of the mysterious creature. One social media user came up with a fascinating theory of his own.

"That could very well be what’s being called Dogman," the user suggested. "They’re spotted each day and the government quells any and all reports. Several people report being strong armed into keeping quiet about their reports by men wearing black suits. These are just facts. Look into if you don’t believe it."

The theory is unlikely to be true because a dogman has only appeared in fiction so far, including a 2018 Italian drama film directed by Matteo Garrone. 

Dire Wolf

Then there were talks about it being a dire wolf, a mythical wolfdog-like creature that became famous after being featured in the show “Game of Thrones.”

However, the theory was quickly rejected by Auchly.

"First off (dire wolf) was a song by the Grateful Dead from 1971," he said of the mythical creature. "I know; I listened to it many times. Number two, it's a prehistoric animal, like mastodons and saber toothed tigers; so it doesn't exist."

While speculation on the mysterious creature is likely to continue till its DNA test — typically takes weeks to process — provides a definite answer, wildlife officials said the ranch family was well within their right to shoot the animal, as it got dangerously close to their property.

"It was real close to the cattle and residences," Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden Zach Norris noted. "There were domestic dogs in the area and then there were children. It was legitimate for the wolf-like animal to be shot based upon Senate Bill 200. Everything was okay with it."