The wolverine’s reputation as a tricky devil is probably outweighed by that of another, much more common North American carnivore: the coyote, who features in the lore of dozens of Native American tribes as a sly conman, a buffoon, or a serious troublemaker, depending on the occasion.
So it seems fitting that Coyote and Wolverine have teamed up: the Cascades Carnivore Project’s sole gulo scat sample, which the project was having analyzed to determine its sex and genetics, turned out to belong not to a wolverine, but to a member of the Canis latrans family. Apparently the coyote was following the wolverine’s tracks (I’ve seen this as well; a coyote walked in the wolverine tracks I found in Death Canyon in February, confusing the heck out of me for a good mile) and left a deposit.
Determining the sex of the Cascades wolverine was a prerequisite of a contest to give a name to the critter, but in light of the continuing mystery, they settled on the androgynous name of Wildy – certainly among the more fitting names for a wolverine, regardless of sex – and are determined to collect another sample sometime soon. I’m eager to find out, so hopefully Wildy will be good enough to enlighten us soon.
In other gulo news, I was talking to a wildlife biologist who recently returned from Sweden, and he mentioned his surprise at the ability of Swedish wolverines to survive in an intensively managed landscape. All of this is anecdotal, and wolverines are not his species of focus, but he mentioned that in Sweden, no tree is more than 500 meters from a road – a design of the government to enable easy forestry activities – and that despite logging and traffic, wolverines negotiate this landscape successfully. Like most of us, he was surprised that an animal so emblematic of wilderness – to the American mind, anyway – was capable of living in such proximity to industry.
Swedish wolverines also run the risk of retaliatory killings by Sami, whose domestic reindeer herds are vulnerable to depredation. In its commitment to maintaining wolverines, the Swedish government came up with a payment-for-ecosystem-services model to help prevent herders from killing wolverines. If a wolverine dens in a herder’s territory, the herder is paid $30,000 up front, which seems to work better among the Sami than post-depredation compensation programs for wolf kills have worked among American ranchers (the Sami also receive payment for a wolf den on their land – $70,000 – but even this rate of payment isn’t enough to build tolerance for wolves, which scatter reindeer across the landscape – a more grievous difficulty, evidently, than the loss of a few animals to depredation, since it makes herding extremely challenging.) There are apparently some problems with the payment system for wolverine depredations, but the level of payment at least represents a serious commitment to conservation on the part of the Swedes. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with the question of livestock depredation by wolverines here in the US, but several of my herder friends in Mongolia mentioned that wolverines do sometimes prey on sheep and goats. One of the objectives of my project in Mongolia this summer is to determine exactly how prevalent depredation is, and how Mongolians respond to wolverine depredations, as opposed to wolf, lynx, or snow leopard depredations.
Finally, we are counting down to Wolverine Night festivities on Thursday! The office is overflowing with gulo-related materials, including a skull and pelt that Wyoming Game and Fish was good enough to lend to us. All of us were excited (but a little sad) at the opportunity to handle a pelt and skull, with the exception of Targhee, Lydia’s dog, who growls and barks every time he sees the pelt. Lydia says that Targhee dislikes ‘animal parts that are not attached to animals,’ but maybe, since he’s a herd dog, it’s simply his livestock-defending heritage kicking in.