Pets in Wolverine Habitat

I was saddened to read of the loss of a number of household pets, apparently to a family of wolverines, in British Columbia over the past several months. According to articles, over 60 cats are missing and the deaths of at least two of these felines are confirmed to have been at the jaws of wolverines. My sympathies are with anyone who has lost a companion in Kitimat.

Like many people who are involved with wildlife work, I came to a love of animals through my own childhood pets. As ambassadors of the non-human world, pets play a vital role in building a sense of understanding and compassion for our wild neighbors. Pet owners, however, must take responsibility for their animals, both to prevent wildlife from being killed, and to keep their pets safe. In recent years, as fishers and coyotes have returned to the town in Massachusetts where I grew up, my parents have adopted an indoor-cats-only policy. This seems to be the wisest solution for everyone. Likewise, dogs should be kept leashed around wildlife, especially in areas where coyotes and wolves are known to live.

Human-wildlife conflict is always frustrating, and living a commitment to conservation is always a challenge. I arrived in Wyoming in 2008 to work on wolves, but was disillusioned by the degree of rancor over the species. Wolverines, I quickly realized, were a much nicer species to work on, because there was almost no conflict around them. I hope that the occasional upsurge in incidents like those in British Columbia doesn’t breed intolerance for a species that exists in such sparse numbers. Quotes in one article, expressing concern about children being attacked, and particularly about humans being ‘disembowled in a matter of minutes’ are probably over the top. Wolverines kill winter-weakened large ungulates and chase bears and wolves away from prey, but as far as I know, they haven’t been recorded actually killing a bear, as the mayor claims in the article.  And I don’t know of any incident in which a wolverine has even attacked a human (defending themselves when backed into a corner doesn’t count) – let alone attempted to hunt one.

Nevertheless, as with pets, it pays to take precautions with your children, especially since wolverines are possessive of prey. Firstly, keep your pets inside as much as possible. Secondly, if the pets must be outside and your children are with the pets, make sure that your children understand that – as brutal a truth as this might be – they shouldn’t take on a wolverine if the wolverine has the pet and is intent on defending its food source. Living with wild neighbors isn’t always going to be easy, but the wildlife bears the brunt of the contact, in terms of habitat loss and direct and indirect mortality. Occasional losses in the other direction shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to declare a hysterical campaign against the species, and people living in wildlife habitat – children included – have to learn this. Again, my sympathies are with those who have lost pets in this and other wildlife incidents, and especially with children who love their animals. But we have to give wildlife the room it needs, and do what we can to minimize conflict.

Finally, at risk of sounding incredibly redundant, I reiterate: keep your pets indoors or under close watch. Wolverines return to habitual food sources – they patrol cliff bands from which wild goats regularly fall, they come back to live traps to check for more bait, they return to carcasses they’ve stashed under the snow during the winter, and they will certainly haunt a place where there’s an abundance of easy prey. Wolverines have huge territories and they patrol them widely, so they might disappear for a time – but that doesn’t mean the pets are safe; the wolverines will eventually drop by to check again for an easy meal. For everyone’s sake – make sure they don’t find it.

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6 thoughts on “Pets in Wolverine Habitat

  1. Pingback: Climate change meeting in Jackson « The Wolverine Blog

  2. My cat was killed by a wolverine in Kitimat on May 19th. I was an eyewitness to the attack. I was not about to let a beloved pet be eaten, so my husband and son pursued the animal until it dropped the cat. It growled at them from a few yards away and then disappeared into the forest. We buried the cat in the backyard. I do not hate wolverines now. I did not even know these animals lived around Kitimat. It seems as if to this day the Conservation Officers do not view my eyewitness account as proof that the incident occured. People who allow their cats to go outside are called “irresponsible pet owners”. Really? Even in your own backyard? I adopted a new cat and she will never see the light of day outside or feel grass underfoot. She will never catch a mouse or feel the sun on her coat, because I am deternined to shake the label of “irresponsible pet owner”. I took my new cat to the vet to be “fixed” immediately after adopting her ( the Humane Society did not know whther this had been done), only to receive a call after she had been anaesthetized that this had already been done. It cost me $130, but at least I did the responsible thing, even though she is an indoor cat. She cries in front of the doors on sunny days and longingly looks outside, but I am a responsible pet owner and will not let her out, not even in my own backyard. The wolverines, however, still come into my yard as have many other wild animals over the years – black bears, grizzlies, moose, deer, foxes – you name them, we have seen them, but only a wolverine has killed my pet. I hope the CO’s will be able to trap ALL the wolverines and relocate them far away from Kitimat. The “lone” wolverine they trapped is probably a youngster and NOT the one that killed my cat. A large wolverine came to the trap site the following day – probably Mom looking for the young one. The CO’s, however seem to believe that there was only one and that I lied about its size. Fortunately the homeowners took a picture of the large wolverine. it is bad enough to be called an “iiresponsible pet owner”. I would not want to be called a liar too. So far one lonely young wolverine has been relocated way up the Nass Valley where it wil, find no cats to eat and its mom is looking for it in Kitimat…. depite what happened to my cat, i feel sorry for it.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your cat – I grew up with cats and love them, so I know how terrible it is to lose a feline family member, especially in such a terrible way. I am also sorry about the skepticism that you’ve encountered in relating your account to others. I’m sure that the rarity of wolverines contributes to people’s unwillingness to believe, but the capture of an actual live wolverine should help lay those doubts to rest. I too certainly hope that they manage to capture and relocate the others.

      On the issue of being an ‘irresponsible pet owner,’ it sounds as if you have done everything right. People seem eager to paint cats as particular villains when it comes to wildlife issues, but many of the people who express the most virulent opinions on the subject are people who dislike cats in the first place, and many of those who I know personally are people who I’ve watched sit by or even applaud indulgently at the ‘cleverness’ of their dogs as those dogs harass or kill wildlife – everything from rodents right on up to large ungulates. The fact is, everything we do, our entire domestic, agrarian project, has massive repercussions for the ecosystems in which we live. For pet owners, part of it is about keeping your pet safe, part of it is about keeping the wildlife safe.Thanks for taking such a conscientious approach to protecting the environment and your cat’s life – even if she doesn’t understand why she can’t go out right now, she would appreciate it if you could explain.

  3. I remember working on my grandparents ranch, near Princeton BC as a kid back in the 60’s. While out changing sprinklers I looked at the base of a steep hill and noticed an animal. I walked a little closer to see what it was, when it saw me, it stood on it’s hind legs. It had a white diamond on it’s chest. I thought for years it was a badger, but the markings I have seen recently tells me it was no badger. Wolverines many times have a white chest and markings. And it was very aggressive and took after me, so I ran as fast as I could out there. I don’t think it was fully grown yet, but it made sure I got out of it’s business.

    • Thanks for the story, Don. Sounds like it could have been a wolverine – in which case you are among the few to have seen the animal in the wild. Pretty neat. Have you ever heard any stories about wolverines depredating on livestock? Just curious, as I’m trying to sort out these questions in Mongolia.

      I do want to be cautious about describing ‘aggression’ in wolverine-human encounters. I don’t want to cast any doubt on your own experiences, and would love to know more about why you felt that the wolverine was being aggressive, but I also don’t want wolverines gaining an unwarranted reputation for negative intentions towards humans. The one time I encountered a wolverine in the wild (eg, not while working on live traps for research), he came right towards me. I was with a hiking companion and a dog, and the wolverine was utterly fearless as it circled our camp – but it wasn’t aggressive, it was simply curious. We sat still, kept the dog on a leash, and watched the wolverine with as much intensity as it watched us – no harm done to either side. Eventually he headed off and I was left a committed gulo-phile. I constantly hear stories to the effect of, “I saw this wolverine and it started chasing me! Man, those are scary animals!” But on further questioning, most of those stories break down to, “I saw a wolverine, it came towards me, I ran away.” That doesn’t mean the wolverine was chasing or acting aggressive towards the person in question, it just means the person in question beat a quick retreat.

      Of course, with all wild animals, you want to be cautious. But I doubt a wolverine would give anyone any trouble without provocation.

      Thanks again for sharing the story, and let us know if you see any more wolverines in the course of your travels.

      • I believe the only reason it came after me was I got a little too close. The hillside was steep right behind it, so he may have felt I was crowding him. If I had stayed a little further away and just watched and went about my business I don’t think he would have done anything.

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