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Old 03-10-2010, 09:00 AM   #1
Woodsman's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 114
Arrow Lookie Here

Quite A Surprise!

Lone, lovelorn wolverine baffles scientists

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A lone wolverine discovered in California almost 90 years after the species supposedly went extinct here is apparently searching for a mate that he might never find.

The muscular carnivore with dark fur and a telltale almond-colored stripe was first photographed in 2008 roaming the Tahoe National Forest.

The finding caused a sensation among wildlife experts, but nobody has yet figured out how the wolverine found its way to the Sierra - his nearest relative is thought to be two states away.

Hair samples and scat have been picked through by scientists, who say the wolverine is a male that came from Idaho, probably across the Sawtooth and Cascade ranges, a trek of at least 800 miles.

"I wish we had the answers," said Amanda Shufelberger, a wildlife biologist for Sierra Pacific Industries, which has used a baited remote camera to photograph the animal several times over the past few weeks.

Girlfriend wanted

Shufelberger calls the wolverine Buddy. A better name might be Randy. 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," Shufelberger said. "It's breeding season, so he's probably feeling lonely right now and searching for a female. It is sad."

Genetic testing of hair found in the same area in 2009 confirmed that the bowlegged beast is the same wolverine from two years ago.

Wildlife biologists thought wolverines had been wiped out in California more than eight decades ago by the fur trade. The species had not been seen in the state since 1922, when the last California wolverine was skinned.

Initial speculation was that the randy Tahoe denizen was a descendant of native California wolverines, but the genetic material collected at the food traps did not match the DNA taken from the skulls and skins of California wolverines killed between 1891 and 1922.
Relatives in Rockies

Turns out the libidinous loner is related to wolverines in the northern Rocky Mountains, particularly Idaho's Sawtooth Range, according to the U.S. Forest Service's genetics laboratory at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont. That's 600 miles as the crow flies, but a great deal more on four feet.

The wolverine, known scientifically as Gulo gulo, is the largest member of the weasel family, with adults weighing as much as 45 pounds. The males are known to travel great distances, keeping home ranges of up to 350 square miles. Studies in Montana have documented wolverines traveling 19 miles a day, and a wolverine in Norway once moseyed 83 miles in a day, ecologists said.

Still, 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."

There are problems with the theory. Trekking across snow-covered peaks is one thing, but the Idaho-to-California crossing requires a long slog through sagebrush-covered high-elevation desert, habitat unknown to wolverines.

Alternative theories

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."

Some theorists suggest that Idaho wolverines might have migrated centuries ago and lived undetected in California until now. They are, after all, loners who stake out remote territory, avoid people and feast on insects, berries, small animals and carrion.

Which points out another wild departure from the norm for this wolverine, Shufelberger said.

"The area that he's at is a very high-snowmobile-usage area, one of the highest in the Tahoe National Forest," Shufelberger said. "It surprises me that he is hanging out there. There are snowmobile tracks everywhere."

Nobody has yet figured out where the wolverine goes in the summer, and he has yet to be spotted in person. Recent pictures have shown the wolverine digging holes to cache food, an indication that he has plenty to eat.

"I always have my eyes open, but his sense of smell is excellent, and he knows I'm coming before I'm close," Shufelberger said. "I do feel sorry for him. People always ask when is he going to get a mate. Probably no time soon. These are threatened species, so it would take a lot to get another one moved in. The best we can do right now is learn as much as we can from him. "

E-mail Peter Fimrite at

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