For Denver and Boulder residents, tomorrow night, CU Wild will host a screening of Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom, followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of wolverine experts. And me. I’ll be there too. The event will be held at CU Boulder, in Fleming Law room 155, from 6-8pm. It’s free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!
Forrest McCarthy’s film about our Mongolia ski expedition will be showing at the Backcountry Film Festival in Jackson, Wyoming, this Saturday, January 11th, at the Pink Garter Theater. Jason Wilmot will be there for a question session. I may be there, and rumor has it that Forrest himself may make an appearance, fresh from Antarctica.
There will be two showings, one at 5:30 for all ages, one at 8:00 for ages 21+ – presumably the 8:00 showing involves alcohol. (If you really want an immersion experience, I’d suggest vodka shots.) Tickets are $10. Children under 12 are free. Proceeds go to the Wyoming Wilderness Association, which works to protect the wilds of this lovely and inspiring state. You can buy tickets at the door or online. Come see our film, support this worthy cause – and hope to see you there.
(And where have I been for the past month or so? Working on a different writing project, completely unrelated to wolverines; crunching numbers on some of the ski expedition data; trying to find funds to analyze the rest; and planning the coming season in Mongolia. I may start updating again more regularly but it depends on the state of the other writing project, a YA novel about paleontology. Or more accurately, what it’s like to be a really dorky teenager obsessed with something none of your peers can relate to. But I will be back at some point. Thanks for your patience.)
Earlier this fall, I helped Forrest McCarthy, one of the biologists on the Mongolian ski expedition in April, put together a short film for the 2013-2014 Backcountry Film Festival. This film festival is run by Winter Wildlands Alliance, and celebrates human-powered winter recreation (or, as I think of it, people getting in touch with their inner wolverine.) The film was accepted, and will be touring the country, from Alaska to Vermont, with opening night at the Egyptian Theater in Boise, Idaho, on November 1st. Tickets are $10. Details are available at the festival’s website. So is a trailer that features clips from our film – viewers will be able to tell, instantly, which clips are ours, since they’re the only ones featuring yaks. This is the first festival film that I’ve been involved with, so I’m pretty excited!
Forrest is a well-known guide, an advocate for human-powered winter sports and for wilderness, who has a long history with wolverine research; he worked with the WCS project when it was running fieldwork in the Tetons, and has orchestrated several citizen science projects since then. He maintains a great blog about his backcountry adventures, and has made a number of films, including a previous short film compiling video from our trip. His presence on the ski trip was a tremendous asset, and Mongolia clearly worked its magic on him, as his ongoing interest in the Darhad demonstrates. All of the filming and the editing are his work; I adapted a script that he wrote, and I narrated, since the script contains Mongolian terms, and Mongolian is a language that will tie the tongue of anyone who hasn’t lived there for a few years. The focus is on the sense of restlessness and the big quest that drives those of us who go out looking for wolverines, rather than on the details of the science (I’m saving that for another film…..and several upcoming papers.) So check the calendar, and show up prepared for big adventure in search of wolverines.
For Montanans who just can’t wait for two days to indulge a thirst for wolverines onscreen, Montana PBS will be airing Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom tonight at 7 pm – always good for a little inspiration as the winter weather sets in and we head into ski season.
A brief update on wolverine news, with a promise that future posts will be more in-depth:
On Tuesday, April 10th, Montana State University will host a showing of Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see the film on the big screen, find your way to the Procrastinator Theater (Is that the real name? If this isn’t a joke, I appreciate the stoicism with which MSU accepts its students’ priorities….) at 7 pm. Director Gianna Savoie will be there, and the event is free to all.
If you happen to live in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Alberta, keep your eyes open for a wolverine that made its way through the small town of Airdrie earlier this week. The wolverine stayed a few strides ahead of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as concerned citizens called 911 all over town. Someone managed to get a good picture of the animal as it crossed the street. Several commenters on the article expressed the opinion that this might be an April Fool’s joke, suggesting that wolverines don’t venture “that far out onto the plains.” Airdrie seems to be (a scant, for a wolverine) 40 miles or so from the mountains, so if this was a joke, it’s one that would be well within the bounds of possibility. An Alberta wildlife biologist decided it was probably a dispersing juvenile. The animal was last seen heading north. This may be overly cautious, but people in the region might want to keep their pets in for a while, especially at night. Wolverines strolling down Main Street might bode ill for domestic animals.
Further north still, wolverine made a brief appearance in Iditarod news when it shared the course with a dogsled team for a short distance, apparently not quite willingly. This is just a one-sentence mention, but it’s fun to think that a wolverine ran part of Iditarod – and then, perhaps, decided that it was too short a distance to bother with, and went and did something more badass instead.
Gianna Savoie will be speaking about her film Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom at REI in Bozeman on October 19th. The talk runs from 6:30 to 8:00pm. The event is free, but limited to 30 participants. You can sign up, and find details about the location, here; there are 16 spots left, so register now if you want to reserve a seat.
Further out on the calendar, on November 9th wolverine biologist Audrey Magoun will give a talk on the discovery of wolverines in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon. Audrey pioneered wolverine research in Alaska and developed a unique system to identify wolverines via camera-trap; it was the deployment of these camera stations last winter that provided the first evidence of wolverines in eastern Oregon since 1936. The talk will be held in Portland, at the Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center of the Ecotrust Building, 721 NW Ninth Ave. An overview of the event can be found here. This lecture is also free, but requires registration. (Are wolverines so popular that we now have to impose limits on attendance? A good sign of a growing constituency, I hope….)
…David Attenborough. Alas. But congratulations, too. I cannot begrudge any honors to the man who brought us “The Life of Birds” and “Planet Earth” (which, by the way, does feature a short segment on the wolverine….)
Nevertheless, the nomination is a huge accomplishment for Gianna and for wolverines. So congratulations again and we look forward to seeing future work on wolverines and other fantastic conservation stories!
I first met filmmaker Gianna Savoie nearly two years ago. Over beer at Jackson’s brewpub, she explained her history in wildlife biology and nature storytelling, two trajectories that were, at that point, converging in the form of a wolverine documentary that she was making for PBS Nature. I’d already gone on one wolverine research trip with a cameraman for the documentary in tow, but at that point the idea was, to me, still abstract, and I was still a skeptic. I knew from experience that it was hard enough to do wolverine science; I couldn’t imagine how anyone – no matter how smart, talented, and energetic – could possibly create a viable film about such an elusive animal.
Seeing Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom, which first aired on PBS on November 14th, 2010, was enough to make me realize that my skepticism had been misplaced. If I needed any further confirmation that the documentary was fantastic (I didn’t, but still…..), that confirmation recently arrived in the form of an Emmy nomination for outstanding nature programming. The nominations were announced back in July (I was on a horse in wolverine habitat in the middle of the Altai in Mongolia, and still haven’t caught up on all the back news), but Montana State University, where Gianna is currently teaching wildlife filmmaking, published an article about the nomination today. Wolverine’s fellow nominees for the honor include David Attenborough’s First Life, Animal Planet’s The Secret Life of Elephants, and another PBS Nature film, Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air.
I had dinner this evening with Gianna and her husband Kip, who also worked on Wolverine. We wondered what might be the best comment on the Emmy prospects for the film, and (jokingly) concluded that neither hummingbirds, elephants, nor David Attenborough would stand much of a chance against wolverines in a face-to-face encounter; if art remains true to nature, the award should go to the gulos.
Joking aside, Gianna is, as ever, humble about her work, and emphasized that her biggest interest is in drawing attention to the wolverine’s conservation needs. As she stated in the interview for the MSU article:
“I didn’t merely want to put the species on the radar, I want to create a place for them in the hearts of the public,” Savoie said. “I want people to fall in love with them as characters, as individuals.”
In fact, Savoie said that her first thought when she learned of her nomination for the prestigious award was not about what dress she would wear, rather it was the attention it might bring to the wolverine, one of the world’s toughest, yet least understood mammals.
“Anything that helps put the wolverine on the radar so that people will want to learn more about them is fantastic,” she said.
This documentary has already created momentum for wolverines and wolverine conservation, and in that sense, it has already started to do what Gianna hoped it would. An Emmy would further that goal and would also recognize the work and the artistry that Gianna, Kip, and the entire crew put into making the film. The awards ceremony for News and Documentary Emmys will be held on September 26th. Congratulations to Gianna on the nomination, and let’s hope that it is the prelude to more good news for wolverines.
Around Easter, a group of pre-schoolers from Billings, Montana, gathered to partake in a peculiar ritual: they spent the day making pinatas for the animals at the Billings Zoo. It’s peculiar, of course, because what is a wild animal supposed to do with a pinata? But it’s also touching, because it speaks to the fact that someone out there is thinking about these animals in very human terms, and recognizing that they too sometimes crave some entertainment, something out of the ordinary. An animal in the wild is unlikely to encounter a pinata, but it certainly has opportunities for play and exploration that zoo animals lack. The pre-schoolers’ pinatas – a tradition repeated every holiday – are a rough compromise between captivity and the unfettered wild.
The pinatas were stuffed with treats according to the type of animal – fruit and vegetables for the bear, meat for the tigers. Among the other animals, a familiar character put in an appearance: “Some animals use the pinatas as houses. Others, like the wolverine, just rip it to shreds.”
The pinata-shredding wolverine, whose name is Cass, will be a feature at an upcoming showing of Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom at the Billings Zoo on May 20th. Film producer Gianna Savoie and Cass’ keeper will be among the wolverine-knowledgeable people on hand to help celebrate the wolverine. The film showing honors Endangered Species Day and – perhaps – the wolverine’s new, almost endangered, status. Details are available below, or at the Billings Zoo website.
If zoo animals shredding pinatas aren’t enough for you, you can head east from Billings; the Detroit zoo regularly supplies its animals with specialty pizzas as part of a program to provide entertainment to the zoo’s denizens, and offer inner city kids the chance to visit the zoo. Detroit has two wolverines, a male, Jigi, and a female, Luka. In case you ever find yourself taking a pair of hungry wolverines to an Italian restaurant, check the menu for a peanut-butter-honey-sardine-raw-meat-and-bones combo. Yum. The zoo keeper describes the two wolverines eyeing each other’s pizzas before settling for their own: “Whatever they have, the other one is always better. They’re just like kids.”
Finally, another important graphic: a shot of snow cover across the US from earlier today. Winter in the Rockies has been ferocious this year, and as this graphic demonstrates, most of the snow on the ground is over five feet deep. It’s been a good year for wolverine denning conditions.
Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are the bookends of the wolverine denning period, and this is the week that wolverine kits around the globe are emerging from their snowbound existence and heading out into the wider world. F3, our female in the Absarokas, was thought to be in a den as of flights in late April. Last weekend, a field team went in to investigate the site and determine whether she had actually given birth or, as per her notorious reputation, was fooling us once again. I really despise cliffhanger journalism, but the topic deserves a post of its own. So check back later this week for the story of what the team discovered.
Here is the official schedule of January, 2011 wolverine talks in Colorado; note that Vail has been added on January 26th. Many thanks to the Center for Native Ecosystems and all the co-sponsors who have contributed time and resources to making these events happen!
January 26th – Edwards, New Battle Mountain High School, 6-8 pm
January 27th – Golden, American Mountaineering Center, 6-8 pm
January 28th – Denver, Denver Zoo, 7-9 pm
January 29th – Boulder, REI, 6-8 pm
In February, Jason will be speaking in Wyoming and Idaho at the following locations:
February 18th: Lander, Wyoming.
February 23rd: Boulder, Wyoming.
February 25: Sun Valley, Idaho.
Details on time and venue will follow.
Also, Gianna Savoie and Nature’s Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom won a Cine Golden Eagle Award in Environment and Science! Congratulations to everyone involved in that amazing film. The documentary was also selected for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, and will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 16th at 9:45am at Oddfellows, 212 Spring Street, Nevada City, CA. Gianna herself will not be able to make it to this showing, but it’s a great chance to see wolverines on the big screen.
Finally, Montana’s wolverine trapping season is closed in region one, with two wolverines killed. The quota in this region is three wolverines, with a female sub-quota of one, which means that a female was killed this year. I’m not posting this news to rile people up, but to raise again the question of whether we know for sure that removing female wolverines – especially reproductive females, although I don’t know whether this particular female was reproductive – from population nodes is safe for the overall population. We also need more information on the extent to which Montana’s wolverines serve as genetic boosters to populations further south, and a source population for recolonization of unoccupied regions. All of these questions bear further careful consideration. I hope we find funding and motivation to get some monitoring and research underway in the near future.
To all Denver and Boulder area residents interested in learning more about wolverine ecology and citizen science: mark your calendars. Jason Wilmot of the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, who has worked on the Glacier National Park and Absaroka Beartooth Wolverine Projects, will be giving a series of presentations in Colorado later this month. The talks will focus on wolverine science, and will provide information about how to identify tracks and sign of both wolverines and lynx. Bring your enthusiasm and your questions.
Here is the schedule so far:
January 27th, American Mountaineering Center, Golden
January 28th, Denver Zoo, Denver
January 29th, REI, Boulder
There’s also a possibility that he will be talking in Vail, although that is not confirmed. In February, Jason will be giving talks in Wyoming and Idaho, including lectures and field trips, so check back for more details about all of these events as the schedule is confirmed.
And finally, unrelated to the lecture tour, but of interest because the bighorn sheep shares the wolverine’s habitat, here is a short video from Conservation Media on the possible effects of climate change on sheep. This represents another instance of scientists wrestling with the question of how global warming will affect biodiversity. Gulos are not the only creature threatened; entire montane ecosystems will be disrupted. The topic is sobering, but the film is fun to watch because of the great footage. Conservation Media has done work for the Wolverine Foundation as well, and their films are consistently high quality and bring attention to wildlife and environmental issues throughout the West. If wolverines and sheep could make their own advocacy pieces, perhaps they would look like Conservation Media’s work.