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This article appeared on a Minnesota website on December 4, 2009. I had to reread the date about six times to make sure that it really dated from 2009 instead of, say, 1809. The views are archaic and the information is inaccurate to a degree that violates journalistic ethics. It does, however, raise an important point about historic perceptions of wolverine.
Wolverine have a reputation for ferocity that outweighs their small size. Trappers and mountain men regarded them with dread, and it’s irrefutable that the animal is adept at sniffing out, and subsequently exploiting to the fullest, any scraps of food or carrion within its territory. A trapline, from the wolverine’s perspective, must have been like a gigantic shish-kabob – chunks of appealing meat strung out across the landscape over many miles, year after year. Add the trapper’s cache of food stashed nearby, and no wonder wolverine developed an affinity for the trapline raid, and a reputation as a pest. The wolverine’s Latin name, Gulo gulo, roughly translates to “gluttonous glutton,” a legacy of its tendency to gorge on the fruits of human labor. Still, when you pit two animals against each other, each trying to eke out a living in a marginal environment, what do you expect?
As for the Glutton’s purported berserker tendencies – the assertions that wolverine regularly take down moose, for example, or drive off packs of wolves, or chase humans on snowmobiles – it’s true that the animal will defend kills, protect meat from larger predators, and make a frightening amount of noise when cornered. But as my boss points out, almost all close human-wolverine encounters, during the era when the wolverine’s reputation was coalescing, occurred between wolverines in traps and the men who were about to kill them. In defense of its life, any animal will display a wild degree of courage.
On equal terms – both free, both at ease, and maintaining an appropriate respectful distance – wolverine and humans are probably capable of getting along fine, and in any case are at least capable of providing each other with mutual entertainment. My first encounter with a wolverine involved a curious male circling my camp for eighteen minutes, clearly intent on figuring out what sort of creatures had intruded on his territory, but not at all aggressive. My boss recounts a story of skiing in the backcountry of Glacier National Park, and looking over, and realizing that a wolverine was sliding down the hill next to him, keeping pace, peering at him. Another friend says that she watched a wolverine in Glacier running up a snow-covered slope and tumbling down, then running up and tumbling down again, and again, and again, apparently for the sheer fun of it. This is my kind of critter. So, to the author of the article in the DL-Online: Cunning? I give you that, they’re smart animals. Fearless? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a wolverine, but, yes, they are courageous. Hated? Perhaps among 19th century trappers, but not in the company that I keep. Replace “Hated” with “Admired,” and you’re on the right track.