Gulo the Firestarter

An article from the Canadian Broadcast Company blames a wolverine for starting a mine fire in Nunavat in early March. An electrician was unable to repair faulty wiring at the mine’s kitchen when he discovered a wolverine under the heat trace that he was supposed to fix. To quote the article: “The following day, when he did go to repair the heat trace, there was a wolverine under it. So he did not go to repair it, for obvious reasons. And within the next day or so, we had a short circuit and it went up in flames.”

Three hundred workers had to be sent home while the kitchen is being rebuilt, the mine’s production targets were curtailed by 14%, and the mine’s stock dropped substantially; the kitchen will cost $18 million to fix. The comments at the end of the article are well worth a read, too; it seems that wolverines have been problematic for mining operations in the far north in the past, too.

This is one of those situations where I’m caught between being extremely entertained, and being somewhat outraged. Of course, a fire that damages property is a terrible thing, but the idea that a wolverine could wreak $18 million worth of havoc is funny in a twisted way. In Mongolia, wolverines are sometimes considered Losan Amtan, animals sacred to the Owners of the landscape and, as such, defenders against environmental degradation. And among Native American groups, gulo is a trickster figure, regularly causing problems for humans. This story intersects neatly with both narratives; wolverine destroying industrial infrastructure, wolverine making trouble.

But the key sentence in the article is really, “And within the next day or so, we had a short circuit and it went up in flames.” Within the next day or so? Doesn’t that suggest that the wolverine had perhaps vacated the premises and the electrician simply hadn’t gotten around to getting back to his job? In that case, it’s absurd (albeit much better headline value) to blame the wolverine instead of human inaction.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like wolverines might be hanging out around mining camps in Canada for the same reasons that bears were hanging out around human infrastructure in the Yellowstone region back in the days before we got smart about garbage management. I doubt the wolverine’s proximity to the kitchen was a coincidence. Maybe it’s time to start creating wildlife-proof industrial sites, so that wolverines – and others – can’t continue to “cause” problems for people.

In any case, I hope the wolverine got out alive.




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