"Buddy" is the first wolverine seen in California in nearly a century.
They say one is the loneliest number. The wolverines in California and Michigan might be able to attest to that. The states have just a single known wolverine each—a male in California and a female in Michigan. Though the fierce animals historically lived in both states, trapping wiped them out. If this were fiction the lone guy and gal would be destined for each other, but sadly, hikers in Michigan's Sanilac County found the four-foot-long femal dead along a trail on Saturday.
Jeff Ford, a high school science teacher, had been keeping tabs on the animal for five years. "I feel like I lost a member of my family," he told Michigan Live.
Wildlife experts haven’t determined the cause of death yet. In an earlier article, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment wildlife biologist Arnie Karr said the wolverine was probably purchased as an exotic pet, then released into the wild. “I just hope she has a happy, wonderful life,” Karr said. “Our feeling is, just leave her alone and let her have a wonderful life. We’re not sure how she got here, but bless her heart.”
The nearest other known wolverine is 100 miles north of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
How the wolverine in California, nicknamed ‘Buddy’, got there has stumped biologists. In his case, the nearest wolverines are two states away. Buddy was first spotted in the Tahoe National Forest in 2008, and recently has been on Sierra Pacific Industries’ property in Sierra County. The company has been using a baited remote camera to photograph him, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Buddy seems rather, er, active right now. “The peripatetic predator is apparently looking for action 20 miles northwest of Truckee. Photographs taken on Jan. 22 and a video montage on the timber company's Web site show him trying to impress other wolverines - which apparently aren't around - with masculine aromas. ‘He marks his territory a lot,’ said Amanda Shufelberger, a wildlife biologist for Sierra Pacific Industries. ‘It's breeding season, so he's probably feeling lonely right now and searching for a female. It is sad.’”
Here’s a video of Buddy taken last March; for more footage,
Genetic testing showed that the loner is related to wolverines in the northern Rockies, some 600 miles away. More from the Chronicle on how Buddy might have made his way to California:
No wolverine has ever been known to waddle over the Rockies, through the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon, across the Cascade Range through Lassen National Forest and into Tahoe, as this one is suspected of doing.
"He may have been looking for a female and not hit one and then just stopped in the Sierra because a lot of food was being placed out on these research studies," said Keith Slauson, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist. "He could have done it, but it is hard to tell because their ranges are so expansive that we just don't have a lot of research on them out here in the West."
The other possibilities are not much better. The burly beast could have been kidnapped from Idaho and released in California, not an easy task given that wolverines are immensely strong for their size and have been known to defend scavenged meat against much larger predators, including bears.
"Honestly, I am split down the middle on it," Shufelberger said. "Both are far-fetched, but both are feasible."
The federal government considers the wolverine a “sensitive” species; it’s not listed as threatened or endangered. It's the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, and its predators indclude mountain lion, wolf, and bear, though people are the primary threat. In the wild females weigh up to about 23 pounds, and males max out at 45 pounds.
There's scant information about wolverine populations across the country and in Canada, but new research indicates that the elusive creatures might be re-establishing a population in north-central Washingon, the News Tribune reports.