A radio-collared wolf's historic journey across Oregon and Northern California now plays like a country song as he goes looking for love in all the wrong places while an important Valentine's Day looms.
The nearly 3-year-old male known as OR-7 is in Northern California heading east toward Nevada, looking for a mate in terrain where he is the only known lobo to venture in nearly 90 years.
And if he reaches the Silver State, OR-7's prospects look even worse because evidence suggests Nevada is not only now wolfless but has never had an active wolf pack.
It's not the formula for mating success, yet you can't help but root for the optimist, says Ed Bangs, who led wolf-introduction efforts for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 23 years before his retirement in June.
"My guess is, every day he wakes up and thinks this is the day he meets the woman of his dreams," says Bangs, of Montana. "He could meet the love of his life tomorrow. But chances are, he won't."
OR-7's efforts represent what animal experts consider to be classic wolf dispersal behavior, and after nearly 1,000 miles of looking, he's probably starting to feel desperate.
Valentine's Day is the peak of the wolf breeding season, and if he fails to find a female soon he will have to wait a full year before mating.
"His mind right now is on love, and the clock's ticking," Bangs says.
And the world is watching.
Satellites daily beam OR-7s whereabouts to state and federal biologists, and the movements are gobbled up by readers and viewers worldwide.
"It's pretty normal; the technology is what makes it an interesting story," Bangs says. "People are fascinated by it."
At 6 a.m. Friday, technology placed OR-7 in California's Lassen County as he continued to move east. On Monday he had been in Shasta County, says Mark Stopher, a senior policy adviser for the California Department of Fish and Game.
"He is much closer to Nevada at this moment than he is to Oregon," Stopher says.
But Nevada isn't wolf country, and there is no evidence that anything but a rare wandering wolf has traveled through Nevada without setting up residence since the first trappers plied the high desert there, says Chris Healy, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Since entering California near Keno on Dec. 28, the wolf has moved more than 200 miles, and biologists say he could just as easily continue toward Nevada or loop back into his home state.
"Who knows?" says John Stephenson, a USFWS biologist in Bend tracking OR-7. "It's clearly wandering around the landscape now.
"Anybody who says they know what he'll do is lying," Stephenson says.
Born in Oregon in 2009 and collared last February, OR-7 was one of 23 known wolves in Oregon. It was born into the Imnaha pack near Enterprise and was captured and fitted with a collar that transmits global-positioning system information to biologists via satellite.
On Sept. 10, OR-7 struck out on his own, but he didn't stick around northeastern Oregon or head to Idaho like others born there.
This wolf meandered south and east through 10 different counties, traveling in a southwesterly direction across the Oregon high desert and into the southern Cascades. When he crossed the Cascade crest into Douglas County on Oct. 27, he became the first known wolf in Western Oregon since the last one was shot for a bounty in 1946.
By early November, he was criss-crossing a 100-square-mile area from the western slope of Mount McLoughlin in eastern Jackson County to the Wood River Valley of western Klamath County.
Then he abruptly headed south around Christmas, crossing into California.
Though seemingly random, his movements represent two common dispersal patterns, Bangs says.
Many wolves, both males and females, will travel hundreds of miles to find a mate and start a new pack, Bangs says.
That would explain why OR-7 sometimes covers 40 or more air miles a day.
"As far as he knows, over the next hill is Nirvana and the love of his life," Bangs says.
When he spent much of the past two months around Mount McLoughlin and the Wood River Valley, OR-7 may have been leaving a calling card, Bangs says.
The wolf might have discovered a remote area with big-game herds that shows good potential for a new home, spending his days howling and leaving his scent to advertise his presence in case some dispersing female happened by.
"He can go on patrol, hoping another wolf finds him," Bangs says.
Or, it could be as simple as he befriended a dog or other canid in the area, Bangs says.
Bangs likens the combination of those strategies to a bar-hopping 20-something hoping not to spend another Saturday night alone.
"Hit one bar and after a few hours if you have no action, try another bar," he says.
Collared wolves have wandered the landscape for thousands of miles and for as long as five years in search of habitat and a mate, Bangs says.
"He doesn't know what's over the next hill, and while he's doing all this he's vulnerable," Bangs says.
Dispersing wolves have a 60 percent survival rate, Bangs says.
"He'll go until he finds a female or dies," Bangs says.
As OR-7 continues to move away from known wolves, Bangs believes the last stanza of this lonely lobo love song could be a sad one.
"My hope is, it turns out well for him," Bangs says. "My experience says maybe not. But there will be others."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.