Three captive kits born in January have emerged from their den and are now on public view in the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire, England. BBC has posted a video of the kits, which are the first ever born in captivity in the UK. The Oxford Times also ran a story about the event. The kits and their parents are part of a European captive breeding program for endangered species, and the kits will eventually move to new homes as part of this program.
The kits were in the den for nine weeks, which is slightly less time than we generally allow wild wolverines, although there is some debate on this. Right now we use February 14th as the default birthday for wild wolverine kits, although this probably ranges from January through March, depending on the female and local conditions. We use May 15th as the benchmark date at which kits are out of the den – and, by extension, the last date at which snow must remain on the ground in order for a region to support a breeding wolverine population. These dates allow a full 12 weeks in the den. Some wolverine researchers believe that the May 15th date might be later than necessary, however, and propose a late-April cutoff for den emergence and snowmelt.
The BBC piece mentions that the female has kept her mate away from the den and the kits. Traditional lore and early research in Scandinavia suggested that males entered dens to kill kits, although later research suggested that infanticide was probably the result of interloping males killing unrelated babies. The Glacier National Park project showed that fathers visited their kits and might even help raise and teach them, and in the Absarokas, our male M57 was observed in close proximity to F3’s den last year. We now know that F3 had at least one baby in 2011, a male, so this may be further evidence that M57 played some role in raising the family. On the other hand, the dynamics of wolverine social interactions remain murky, and there may be more to the story than we are aware.
In any case, the birth of these three captive kits is a big event for the UK – perhaps even the first wolverine births there since the Pleistocene. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, drop by the zoo and say hello to them, and be sure to take some pictures and share them here.