Tricksters, Depredation, and One Funny Dog

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.

Wolverine skull

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.

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2 thoughts on “Tricksters, Depredation, and One Funny Dog

  1. Hi There, very interesting reading thanks!
    I am currently in Quebec on holidays and have been doing a little reading on the Carcajou over the last few days, what an awesome creature they are.
    I own a Tasmanian devil sanctuary at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and we often draw comparisons between the two species as they fill similar niches in opposite hemispheres.
    The sanctuary focusses on breeding, education to the visiting public, field monitoring and release programs. You may or may not be aware but the devil population in Tasmania (its last home) is in real trouble a contagious cancer called devil facial tumour disease is sweeping across the island and the population has decline by approx. 80% in the last 10-12 years and the species is looking at potential extinction in the wild in the next 25 years. The main cause of the disease is lack of genetic diversity.
    I have released a number of captive bred devils over the last two years and was interested in the the story on satellites collars. I have looked into this technology myself but am a little reluctant due to the cost and I am not overly confident of them remaining on the animal for any great period of time. It was mentioned the same issues occur with Wolverines. How do they go about getting them off…..with devils it could occur in a number of ways, scrapping, mating and being a devil in general.
    I would love to see a Wolverine in the wild but I understand the chances are almost zero so I was wondering if there were any captive breeding programs or Zoos where I could get a close look at a Gulo. I am planning on heading to Yellowstone on my way back to Australia if you know of anywhere nearby…
    Cheers and keep up the good work.
    Wade

    • Thanks for the very interesting info on Tasmanian devils. I had indeed heard about the cancer – truly tragic. I hope that something can be done to cure it and to prevent them from going extinct.

      Wolverines are built like football players – big shoulders, small heads – so my understanding is, in addition to being clever at getting rid of stuff they don’t want to be wearing, their build enables them to get out of collars more easily than other animals. If you want to talk to someone about how we deal with this, I should put you in touch with the field director of the project and you could talk technicalities with him.

      The best place to see a wolverine in the US is probably Glacier National Park in Montana. Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming would be a good second bet because the range is narrow and contained; however, you’d have to get up pretty high, and the high-altitude habitat is much more accessible in Glacier than in the Tetons.

      I know there’s a wolverine in a zoo in New York, but I’m not aware of any in the immediate Yellowstone area, unfortunately. I’d offer to do a little research for you, but I am on the way out the door (literally) to Mongolia. You might be able to find something if you google it – I bet there are probably wolverines in zoos in California, too.

      If you do find a wolverine – either in the wild, or in a zoo – write back and let me know your impressions!

      Best of luck with the Tasmanian devil work, and I hope that one day I’ll have a chance to see one of them in the wild, healthy and happy.

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