By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Over the weekend, a tour group got the opportunity of a lifetime when they encountered a wolverine out in the wild of Yellowstone National Park.
Wildlife experts say such sightings are extremely rare, with last weekend’s observation in Yellowstone being only the eighth reported in the last 15 years.
Sightings are so unusual, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Biologist Zack Walker, because there appear to be very few wolverines in the state.
“During our last monitoring efforts five years ago, we know we had at least six individual wolverine, but there are likely more,” Walker told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “But that’s the minimum number we know of.”
The department is again monitoring the wolverine population this year, and Walker said that so far, there appear to have been more wolverines detected than in 2017. He didn’t have exact numbers, but he said it seems the monitoring efforts are more successful this year.
Wyoming is not alone in having low wolverine numbers. The entire species nearly went extinct in the 1920s in the lower 48 states because of unregulated harvesting, habitat loss and broad-scale carnivore poisoning, according to the Game and Fish department.
“They’ve been naturally trickling back into the state over the years, reoccupying new areas,” Walker said. “The other part of why they’re so rare to see is because they’re really solitary animals. They have very large home ranges and they’re spaced out across the landscape. Life history has made it so you never really have any congregations of them in one place.”
Event Of A Lifetime
MacNeil Lyons, who runs the Yellowstone Insight tour group, was astounded when he saw the wolverine in Yellowstone over the weekend.
“I’ve worked in Yellowstone for almost 22 years, and over the course of that time, I’ve been very fortunate to have seen some very unique, amazing, wild moments,” Lyons told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “But the only wolverine I’ve seen, before Saturday, was through binoculars at a great distance.”
Lyons compared the wolverine sighting to seeing a unicorn in the park. While he would be happy for more wolverine sightings to occur, he does not necessarily expect to see one again in his lifetime.
“I like to go to work with a pocketful of optimism and a smile on my face,” he said. “You never know what could be around the corner. It’s highly unlikely we will see another one, but it just shows you’ve got to keep coming back to the park. Patience, practice and persistence pays off.”
Wolverines are generally not dangerous to humans, unless they are backed into a corner and are desperate.
They are the largest mammal in the weasel family, and while they are similar to badgers, they tend to scavenge more than their temperamental family members.