This blog has served a number of purposes over the years. It’s been a place for me to document my work, keep track of research and news, formulate and share ideas about carnivore conservation, explore the cultural connections between people and wildlife on two continents, and collect wolverine sighting reports from people all over the country. I expected all of these outcomes, more or less, when I started the blog and the Mongolian Wolverine Project back in 2009.
What I did not expect was the community of friends and supporters that developed around what I’ve been writing. Devoted wolverine enthusiasts have taken the time to contact me, share their ideas and work, give me feedback, invite me to their field sites, meet up for face-to-face discussions, and in some cases even come to run half-marathons with me. Many of these people have been interested in wolverines for far longer than I have, and I’ve learned a lot – and gained a lot of energy – from my conversations with them.
Among these individuals, British artist Jeff Cain was one of the first and most consistent in sharing his interest in the species. Jeff belongs to that small and unique group of people who have the Wolverine Thing – that odd, inexplicable fascination with the species, a sort of sacred obsession that strikes particular people. He has traveled all over the world to photograph, draw, and paint them, and has shared a number of great wolverine stories with me. He is a wildlife filmmaker as well, again with a primary interest in wolverines, although he’s worked on a number of other species. He follows wolverine research attentively, and his paintings are sometimes dedicated to particular researchers and their work. His enthusiastic emails of encouragement, along with photos of wolverines and images of his artwork, always appear in my inbox shortly before I set out on any major expedition, usually at the moment when I’m starting to question the validity of what I’m doing, or worry that I don’t have what it takes, or am ready to have a minor meltdown over the physics of fitting 20 camera traps into a very small suitcase. Those emails have frequently provided the antidote to pre-expedition nerves, and I remain grateful for such long-distance support.
Earlier this month, I went to the post office to find a large mailing tube with British stamps waiting for me. Inside was a print of a gorgeous painting, depicting a wolverine chewing on a boar skull in Khentii Aimag, northern Mongolia. The painting was titled “Mongolian Bone Crusher,” and the print was inscribed to me. Jeff had contacted me some time ago to tell me he was working on it, after I told him that I’d found what I referred to as a boar skull that had been chewed on by a wolverine (I was mistaken. It was a deer. At a quick glance, the skull in fragments, its ivory read as an incipient tusk. But I’m glad that the painting depicts a boar skull, because that marks it as Eurasian, and not North American.) I love the fantastic detail in this painting – the texture of the fur and the moss, the gleam in the wolverine’s eye, the way he’s crunching through those old bones and living up to his gluttonous reputation. You can win all kinds of recognition in the scientific world, but having a wolverine artist paint a picture in honor of your work feels like the best possible stamp of approval. A Jeff Cain painting of one’s wolverines is a sure indicator that one has entered the official annals of the wolverine world. I am truly honored, and can’t wait to frame and hang the work.
Jeff Cain’s Wolverine Artwork website highlights his work, including the Mongolian Bone Crusher and other paintings dedicated to particular research projects and researchers. I’m adding it to the permanent list of links on the blog, and encourage everyone who appreciates wildlife art to check it out. I love this work because it combines two of my great interests: wildlife science and art. It’s a conscious attempt to express the details of what we’ve learned about wolverine ecology in the medium of beautiful and meticulous painting.
This post hardly does justice to Jeff’s work, but it’s been too-long delayed by travel and a busy schedule over the past couple of weeks, so I want to get it out there. A huge thanks to Jeff, and to all the people who follow this blog, support this work, and have taken the time to share their interest, ideas, and creative work. You are the best!