The sky finally cleared enough last week to get two flights into the air, on Wednesday and Saturday, and F3 was in the same location for both flights!
We’ve tentatively concluded that she is indeed localized and that this, along with evidence of pregnancy when she was caught in January, suggests that she has kits. The pilots observed a large number of tracks in the vicinity of the signal as well. With wolverines, assumptions can get you in trouble, so I’m trying not to invest too much in the idea of these kits until someone has actually seen them. But the evidence points to a new family of wolverines in the Rockies.
A field crew will ski in to investigate and perhaps set up a camera at the site. We probably won’t instrument the kits; the project is currently at a low budgetary ebb and we lack the funds to regularly fly and monitor kits, which would be necessary to gather the data that telemetry could provide. This is unfortunate, since dispersal is one of those critical parameters for understanding population dynamics, especially in this tiny population node at the very edge of wolverine range. A site visit and a camera will allow us to determine how many kits F3 has, and perhaps their sex, and may even offer some information on whether M57 is visiting the den, and how often.
I am simultaneously thrilled – we’ve been waiting years for F3 to have babies – and a little disappointed – I am currently out of the country and won’t be able to participate in the den visit. But the disappointment is all selfish, and the excitement is absolutely overwhelming.
Further exciting gulo news came out of Oregon today – after researcher Audrey Magoun tracked a wolverine in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon last week, her camera traps captured images of two individuals in the same area. Audrey and her husband have reset the camera stations to photograph the animals in a way that will allow them to determine the sex of the two animals.
After years of sighting reports from Utah, WCS did surveys last year and picked up tracks in the Uintas; the tracks looked like wolverine tracks, but they couldn’t confirm the ID. This winter, a Forest Service biologist found and documented a set of tracks in the Uintas as well, and the photographs suggest that Utah does have at least one wolverine after all. Where did this wolverine come from? This is one of the reasons we need the capacity to monitor kits.
Further to the north, in Canmore, British Columbia, researcher Tony Clevenger is gathering DNA samples by way of hair snares to study Canada’s wolverine population. Canada’s wolverine population is more robust than the population in the US Rockies, but Clevenger and his colleagues are trying to estimate population numbers and determine whether the animals are being affected by infrastructure development.
All around, it’s been a great week in the gulo world. Now I’m looking forward to hearing about the kit expedition, and having final confirmation that F3 and M57 have babies. (By the way, do people really celebrate the birth of a human baby with champagne? Or is it cigars? Or something else? I can’t remember. In any case, I am proposing that the birth of wolverine kits be celebrated with champagne henceforth….)