For only the second time in 100 years, a wolverine was spotted near Bishop, California, roaming in the eastern Sierra Nevadas. The National Park Service said this particular wolverine was seen three times in the last month.
Wolverines have been considered fundamentally extinct for most of the 20th century and are extremely rare. The last wolverine confirmed in California was spotted between 2008 and 2018 near the Tahoe National Forest. It is likely that the wolverine spotted in May is a different animal than the one spotted previously, due to their lifespan being only 12-13 years.
The animal was seen in Yosemite National Park and was spotted twice in the Inyo National Forest. State wildlife officials think the wolverine is likely a male seeking a mate. Daniel Gammons, an environmental scientist from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, said, “It’s just really exciting and surprising.”
The wolverine family includes weasels, badgers, and otters. They’re famous for their solitary nature and muscular strength. Wolverines can weigh up to 50 pounds and are usually around three feet long. They are similar to bears with bushy tails, with large skulls and powerful jaws that can chomp through meat and bone.
Their fur is thick and oily, making it hydrophobic and resistant to frost. They have feet like snowshoes, which is perfect for arctic and snow habitats. Female wolverines typically select deep snow tunnels to make a den for their cubs.
Wolverines can roam large distances, and Gammons speculates that the heavy snowfall could have created a “bridge” that allowed the animal to travel from as far away as Canada or Alaska.
It’s not entirely clear how the wolverine population began its steady decline, but experts speculate it’s a result of hunting and fur trapping during the gold rush. The wolverine is protected under the California Endangered Species Act, but it was denied protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, despite conservationists’ efforts.
Wildlife officials are trying to get a specimen of the wolverine’s hair or scat for genetic testing.
What else is out there in the wild that evades humans’ eyes? Tell us what you think in the comments.