Return to the Altai

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a colleague who suggested, politely but also pointedly, that I should probably start updating this blog again. I said yes, of course, I really had every intention of doing so, very soon.

Then, when I was on the phone with my parents yesterday, talking about my upcoming travel plans, my mother, politely but perhaps also pointedly, said, “Well, maybe this trip will provide some good fodder for your blog?” And I realized that I hadn’t even posted a single update about my upcoming plans, despite the fact that they are both wolverine-relevant and also pretty exciting.

Early tomorrow morning, I leave for Mongolia to set up camera traps in the Altai for wolverines. The Altai form Mongolia’s western border with China and Russia, and contain Mongolia’s highest peaks. The glaciated landscapes of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park are breathtaking, as I was made aware when I first visited this region in 2001. That was before I was very aware of wolverines, but not before I was aware of the other compelling denizen of the higher elevations of Asia, the snow leopard. I returned to Tavan Bogd and neighboring Khovd Aimag in 2010 to conduct interviews on wolverines and other wildlife, and had some thrilling encounters and near-encounters while I was up in the mountains.

This trip is in cooperation with a snow leopard project affiliated with the Denver Zoo, which means that I’m not only camera trapping for wolverines, but may also have the chance to fulfill a 17-year-long dream of seeing a snow leopard in the wild and participating in snow leopard collaring activities. So it’s pretty darn exciting. I’m also exhausted, however, and have about a dozen other writing projects right now, so sometimes it’s hard to remember to keep this blog up to date. But my mother is probably right – as mothers usually are. This trip should be story-worthy.

More details will be forthcoming once I reach Ulaanbaatar – thanks for reading and stay tuned.

 

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Lightning

And now for something completely different – I’m eager to get out of the morass of listing politics and back to writing about the work in Mongolia. Part one of summer adventures in camera trapping.

The storm comes in fast, when we’re at 9600 feet on an exposed ridge, close to the crest of the divide between Mongolia and Russia. We’ve been toiling upwards for nearly two hours now, and I’ve made the mistake of keeping my eyes front and up, or else on my feet picking their way through the talus, and I don’t glance behind me until a small golden weasel – Mustela erminea, at a guess – pops out from among the rocks and dances around me, and I turn, following it as it does the quintessential weasel dance, circling, peering at the interloper, curious and unafraid, and as I turn, I see the sky roiling in behind us, up the valley, a veil of precipitation cloaking the mountains, snake tongues of lightning flicking across the sky, flickering among the clouds the way the weasel flickers among the rocks, and I realize that we are in trouble.

Ermine in the talus

Ermine in the talus, moving too fast to focus.

The ridge drops away sheer on either side for a thousand feet, maybe more, all the way down to a rushing stream that drains out of the big bowl whose southern rim we are climbing. The world is a palette of subdued colors; rock and snowfields and the copper and rust of vegetation just liberated from winter snows, the only vital color the golden weasel and the deep aqua around the edges of the icebound lakes far below. The valley is a dizzying distance below, and the mountain offers neither shelter nor any easy descent – it is a mountain ground down to a million pieces of mountain, an edifice of precariously balanced talus that seems ready to slide if you put a single foot wrong. The only way off is the way we came up.

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Snow leopard country.

I shout up to my companions, who have not stopped to watch the weasel and who have not turned and who have not, therefore, seen the storm bearing down on us. Ulzii, the ranger, turns and I wave and point and say that we need to get off the ridge, now. Tsend, who has joined me from Ulaanbaatar as a bridge between my fairly proficient standard Khalkh Mongolian and the nearly-incomprehensible dialect of the Darhad region, comes back down a few feet, squints at the storm, and says, “Maybe it will miss us.”

“It’s not going to miss us.”

“You need to have a more positive attitude,” he admonishes me, and heads back off up the ridge.

A crack of thunder shatters the air around us and the wind rises as Ulzii and I stare in consternation at Tsend’s back, retreating up the ridge. The clouds swallow the last of the sun and the thunder booms again. I’ve been in the wilderness with a couple of people who I really admire as expedition leaders, people who display qualities of calm and cool that I would like to now emulate, as a leader myself, but that seem impossible to evoke amidst the rising panic and simultaneous frustration that threaten to overwhelm me. The rain starts then, and it turns quickly to sleet and hail. Within seconds the talus, already precarious when dry, is soaked and slippery, making the prospect of a descent even more daunting.

In a tone of the deadest calm I can muster, I ask Ulzii to go get Tsend and bring him back, but he has barely gone a few feet when I feel my heart lurch and skip, and a strange itching sensation passes along my scalp and my teeth hurt and my head spins. I put my hand to my head and look back up at Ulzii, and he is on the ground with his back against a large boulder, his face white. Behind him, I see Tsend rapidly returning down the ridge. Positive attitude indeed, I think, and flatten myself against the rocks, pushing my backpack with its metal water bottle and various electronics as far from myself as it can get without going over the edge. I’m shivering, I realize, soaked to the skin, so I chance pulling the backpack closer, and extract my winter gear – puffy jacket, down jacket, raincoat, hat – and pull them on, feeling the instant relief of warmth through my headache and the strange fuzziness of thinking that seems to have overtaken me. I’m the only one who has this kind of gear; broach the idea of emergency layers with a Mongolian and he’ll just laugh and say, “Zugeer, zugeer,” which is an all-purpose Mongolian expression that means, in essence, “It’s not a problem,” but which can also mean, “You’re being overly cautious and no descendant of Chingis Khan requires such coddling.” This is probably true; Mongolians are the toughest people I’ve ever met. Nevertheless, I worry about Ulzii and Tsend, Ulzii in his uninsulated rubber riding boots and thin jacket, Tsend in the office-wear that he has brought, cotton pants and button-down shirts and a sweater and windbreaker, neither with a winter hat. The hail and the thunder and the lightning crackle and pelt and roar around us, the cloud that is the heart of the storm enveloping the ridge. It goes on and on and on as we crouch there, growing colder and wetter and – at least on my part – counting the intervals between lightning and thunder to try to figure out whether the storm is moving away from us. It doesn’t seem to, it seems to have settled in, huddling over us the way we are huddling against the rocks. We are far up the valley, nearly at the headwaters of the drainage, the vast encircling wall of mountains that mark the upper end, and the storm hits that wall and stays, pushing at the peaks.

Finally it seems to dissipate, marginally, and we scramble down the mountain as another wall of precipitation and flickering lightning moves up the valley towards us. Halfway down, Tsend suggests that we wait and see, that perhaps this one will miss us and we can go back up, but Ulzii mutters “Ayul, ayul,” which means “dangerous,” and I’m glad that he has said it so that I can avoid speaking. My head still hurts. Later, I know that I’ll have to talk to them again about gear and about mountain safety issues – the awkward problem of the dynamic of a young woman telling two older men what to do – hopefully this time with more impact, but for now, between my aching teeth and muscles and the splitting headache, I’m glad not to have to talk.

Not until we’re back at our camp, huddled under the battered old tent fly that Ulizii has stretched between two trees, tending to a sputtering fire and trying to avoid the leaks as another round of rain and hail pelt down, do I process what happened. Ulizii and Tsend both felt it too – the lurch of the heart, the prickling skin, the burn along the edges of the scalp: lightning passing through us from a charge in the ground. The realization comes with the sense of deferred awe that people seem to experience only after they emerge from extremely dangerous situations, when the adrenaline releases its hold and the mind stutters to life again. We could have died up there.

It’s day four of a research trip to set up wildlife cameras in the most remote reaches of northern Mongolia, and I ask myself a question that I’ve asked myself many times before: is this work worth the risk?

I don’t have the right to answer this question for my companions, but they’ve made it clear that they want to be here and understand that it’s potentially dangerous. For myself, the answer remains the same: Yes, it’s worth it. And we’ll be back up that mountain tomorrow, even though, looking up at it from our camp, I have the uneasy sense that it’s not finished with us yet.

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Trying to keep the fire alive back at camp in the post-lightning deluge.

 

Notes From High and Beautiful Country

I’m struck anew at how this country seems to resist rapid movement by any conveyance other than horseback.

After an amazing ten days in the field setting up camera traps, I’m briefly back in Murun, the capital of Hovsgol Aimag. The trip down from the Darhad took three full days, most of which involved waiting around for vehicles, and the rest of which involved crawling along through mud and ruts at about 10km per hour while sitting in Russian vans – the world’s most uncomfortable motorized contraptions.  As we are not a fancy organization with a huge budget, however, we go by local transport.

And in the end, it’s worth the trouble. Working with the protected areas administration, with a grant from the Snow Leopard Network and cameras on loan from Panthera, I went back up into the country we skied last year, to set up camera stations in hopes of catching an image of the big cat whose tracks we found in the snow. One of the PA’s rangers, Ulzii, worked with me; we spent ten days hiking and riding through amazing country. I thought I’d seen the best of it during the ski trip last year, but it continues to get better with every expedition, and with more time to explore. I am at a public computer right now, unable to upload my photos or write a full piece about the experience, but the highlights included scaling multiple 10,000 foot peaks; watching a large swath of mountainside fall away in a huge rockslide in the valley opposite; getting hit by lightening (which was startling but resulted in nothing worse than exhaustion and a pretty bad headache); the sheer sense of fun with which Ulzii took up spraying perfume on rocks to create lures, and pretending to be a big cat when it came time to test the cameras; seeing elk and wild reindeer and a flirtatious and fearless Siberian weasel; finding a skull, probably a young musk deer, gnawed to shards, with a big pile of wolverine scat next to it; finding huge amounts of elk and ibex and moose sign, and even bear scat; inching along a headwall that was more a million pieces of mountain than a single mountain, ancient cracked talus precariously balanced and threatening to slide with every step; being up high in spectacular meadows ringed with snow and avalanche chutes, feeding into wild streams roiling down into hillsides covered in pale lichen and wild azalea and rhododendron, all of it underlain by permafrost; climbing up along those streams, scrambling over rocks and rapids to come out in another meadow, with a series of beautiful waterfalls, and then scrambling straight up big cliff faces (finding, in one handhold, the perfect nest of a small bird, three pale eggs nestled in the bowl) to come out on a huge plateau where you prowl back and forth, looking down at the plunging valleys all around, the half-frozen lakes below, the streams rushing down towards their rivers, and try to figure out how a snow leopard might think.

Now comes the waiting. I’m headed up to Bayazurkh, the soum to the west of the Darhad valley, to look into helping a fly-fishing company create a research plan for monitoring taimen, the 200 pound salmonids that swim the rivers here. From there, I hope to walk back to Ulaan Uul in the Darhad via the high mountains of Ulaan Taiga, the last remaining section of the Darhad mountains that I haven’t yet explored. From there, I’ll go back up into the mountains in late July to take down the cameras.

This will probably be the only day on which I have internet access until the end of July, but I plan to do a full write-up when I return – I’ve already composed a lot of it in my notebooks, and honestly it’s nice to be back to writing by hand, with a pen, and with no computer anywhere in the vicinity. Still, I look forward to getting back to writing here once I return. In the meantime, let’s hope that the snow leopard(s), the wolverines, the ibex, and the other wildlife of the Darhad visit the camera sites, so that we can learn a bit more about them and help the protected areas plan for their conservation.

 

 

A Wolverine Day in Mongolia

This morning, May 14th, I woke up to snow spiraling down onto the streets and buildings of Ulaanbaatar. It seemed like a good sign – tomorrow is the day that we use to mark wolverine kits’ departure from their dens (even though there’s some deviation in the exact timing), and snow over UB on May 14th is a sign of what makes this country a good place for gulos.

Tomorrow is also the day that a group of scientists and I will depart for the Darhad, to work with the director of the valley’s three protected areas, Tumursukh; his rangers; the provincial environmental department; and community members from two of the region’s towns, Ulaan Uul and Bayanzurkh. Our visiting American scientists this year include two employees of the National Park Service, David Thoma and Kristin Legg, and Lance Craighead of the Craighead Institute. All three specialize to some degree in planning and monitoring, and the scope of work this year is much bigger than wolverines. This year, under the umbrella of BioRegions International, a Mongolia-focused non-profit based in Bozeman, Montana, we will be working with the protected areas to think about long-range management plans, monitoring protocols, environmental problems, and possible areas for collaboration beyond basic wildlife research.

As if this prospect were not enough, I walked into Ulaanbaatar’s landmark Cafe Amsterdam this morning to find myself face-to-face with Doug Chadwick – the author of the definitive book of wolverine adventuring, The Wolverine Way – and Harry Reynolds, director of the Gobi bear research project (Chadwick’s recent article about the Gobi bear project is here.) At this point, Cafe Amsterdam has hosted more American wolverine enthusiasts than most places in the US.

Later in the day, I finally had the opportunity to meet Dr. Lhagvasuren, one of the senior scientists at the National Academy, whose enthusiasm for wolverines and wildlife research was immediately apparent. He ran through the things he’d heard about wolverines in his years of work in the countryside: that they were sent by god to keep the world clean, that they were very powerful, that people were wary of them for that reason. He said that some people were reluctant even to touch a wolverine pelt, because of the power of the animal. They were not bad animals, exactly, but they had powers. He said that if you messed with a wolverine, if you harmed or killed one, it would come back and take revenge. We were speaking English, and when I asked him whether “god” meant Tenger, the Sky, or Erleg Khan, the king of the underworld, he paused and then said, “Probably both. I think both.”

Back at the apartment, I sorted through a suitcase full of automatic cameras that the park rangers and I will use later this summer to try to catch a glimpse of the Darhad’s snow leopards – and also, of course, the wolverines. Checking the settings on the cameras, I felt a sudden lightheaded, tremendous desire to find these animals again. It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Winter was difficult and the wolverine work was on hiatus. But since I arrived in UB three days ago, the momentum has been building, a reminder that wolverines are indeed powerful, and that once you engage with them – even in the most benign ways – they have their claws in you and you are obligated to them. So here we go, again, into the wilds of Mongolia, in search of the great and powerful wolverine.

 

 

Snow Beasts

I first went to the mountains of Hovsgol, Mongolia, in 2001, as a volunteer on snow leopard track surveys sponsored by the Mongolian government and the International Snow Leopard Trust. With two fellow Peace Corps volunteers and a Hovsgol National Park ranger, I spent nine days in the Horidol Sardag, the range that arcs along the southeastern curve of the Darhad, searching for snow leopard sign and for evidence of the snow leopard’s primary prey species, ibex and argali. At that time, American-style wildlife research in Mongolia was still in its infancy, and although the local community had reported snow leopard presence in the mountains around the Darhad, the international scientific community hadn’t been able to confirm these reports. They were still searching, throughout the country, for population nodes of the big cats and their prey.

The Horidol Sardag left me in awe. It was the first time I had traveled across an expanse of country for nine days without encountering anyone outside my own party. The place felt vast, and empty of human influence, and therefore whole and connected in a way that I’d never experienced before. It wasn’t that the country was unpopulated – it was the awareness of the fact that people had lived here for thousands of years without wrecking the place. The landscape had presence, a kind of quiet awareness that seemed nearly conscious in its intensity. We never found the snow leopards, nor any sign of argali; the only evidence of ibex was a worn old skull lying in the middle of a dry drainage up high. But we heard wolves at night, and saw elk and ptarmigan and deer. And the sense of awareness and watchfulness I attributed in part to the presence of snow leopards, somewhere beyond our sight, because predators lend electricity to a landscape, even when you can’t see them. By the time the survey was over, I’d developed a fascination with the species, because they lived in the mountains and were solitary and wide-ranging and tied to the snow and cold. These were all characteristics that I admired.

At the time, I was unaware that there was another unseen mountain beast running around in the Horidol Sardag. When I started talking with wolverine biologists in 2006 about a potential project in Mongolia, I was struck by the similarities between wolverines and snow leopards. These similarities made it easy to expand a fascination with snow leopards to encompass wolverines as well. One of my initial questions – still a topic of interest – involved possible interactions and competition among snow leopards, wolverines, and wolves. Another, of course, has to do with the vulnerability of snow leopards to climate change, and whether that vulnerability is as acute as that of wolverines. There are other hypotheses as well. Much as I love wolverine work in the US, the prospect of being back in mountains that contained snow leopards and wolverines fueled a large part of my drive to start working in Mongolia.

In 2009, I began interviewing herders and hunters throughout Mongolia, searching for information on wolverines, which had never been formally documented in the country. I took a packet of animal photographs everywhere I went, because I didn’t want interviewees to know exactly which species I was interested in. I would pull out the cards and ask people to sort the pictures into piles, representing animals that lived in the area, and animals that did not. Pooled over several interviews in a single region, trends began to emerge. One particularly interesting trend came from the interview data in the Darhad: people persistently reported snow leopard presence. The scientific community still hadn’t verified presence since the surveys in 2001, but hunters insisted that snow leopards were around. So did Tumursukh, the director of the Darhad’s three protected areas, when I spoke to him last September about the prospect of a wolverine camera project in the region. He was enthusiastic, not only because of wolverines, but because he was sure that the cameras would turn up evidence of snow leopards, too. The IUCN depicts the area as containing a “probably extant” resident population, so the perception that there were as-yet-scientifically-undetected snow leopards in these mountains was widespread.

IUCN range map of snow leopards showing a probable resident population in northern Mongolia.

IUCN range map of snow leopards showing a probable resident population in northern Mongolia.

The data trends regarding wolverines were interesting as well. Interviewees sometimes used the word hovor (“rare”) to describe the species, but many of them referred to wolverines as  elbeg (“abundant”), especially during the winter months. All of them told me that if I came back when there was snow on the ground, I would definitely find tracks. They described the tracks as being all over the place, and easily found.

This didn’t entirely make sense. Wolverines are never abundant; they’re naturally rare, even when the landscape is saturated. But part of the impetus for doing wolverine work in Mongolia stemmed from initial, relatively vague reports that Mongolian wolverines might be doing things differently from their kin in the rest of the world. I didn’t want to dismiss anything, no matter how odd, so I added several hypotheses to the running list, and discussed, with the project’s scientific advisor Jason Wilmot and with Mongolian colleagues, the option of doing a series of transects while snow was on the ground, to see if we could get some kind of bearing on whether wolverines in the Darhad were elbeg, hovor, or somewhere in between. We saw this as a prelude to a more in-depth study.

That was the inception. Now I’m going to skip to the end, with promises to fill in the middle soon.

We ended up doing the track survey with a team of five Americans, sponsored by National Geographic. I would have preferred to have at least one Mongolian on the team, but the logistical realities, and the difficulty of finding someone with adequate ski experience, precluded this. We set out in late March, and skied until late April, covering approximately 230 miles, with resupplies managed by the multi-talented Mishig and the rest of the equally talented team at Boojum Expeditions. This was my first long expedition, so there was plenty of learning for me. But they were, in a way, my mountains; I’d traveled around in them in bits and pieces over the course of twelve years, and they felt comfortable.
Living in the cold, camping in the snow, and bundled into layers of warm winter clothing, we became snow beasts of the Darhad too.

And our experiences matched those of my Mongolian interviewees – there were wolverine tracks everywhere. I remain stunned by how many tracks we detected. Even though I have high confidence in the accuracy of the information I obtained from the interviews, I did not anticipate finding tracks every day – but we did. I’m not going to mention any conclusions here, but my mind is spinning, in a good way. It’s been spinning too fast to write anything for the past few weeks, but the pieces are finally starting to fall into place. It’s an exciting feeling.

Our experience also aligned with those of my Mongolian friends in another way. Twelve years after my first trip through the Horidol Sardag, I finally saw snow leopard tracks in the mountains of Hovsgol. Skiing over the high, barren, and beautiful country at a place called Utrag Pass, I suddenly felt that electricity again, the sense of presence. A few minutes later, I paused at a set of strange tracks that moved across the crusted snow in a way that said “cat.” Jason and two other expedition members ended up documenting them as I skied on ahead, the victim of a heavy pack that necessitated continuing so that I could make adequate time. The tracks were fresh, and they were definitely not lynx, the only other big cat in the region.

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Forrest McCarthy, the expedition’s official adventure-geographer, skis across the high country of Utrag Pass.

When we got back to Ulaanbaatar, I sent the track photos to friends who work on snow leopard projects elsewhere in the world. Fellow expedition members did the same, and the photos went out to a variety of experts. They all verified the ID. Panthera, the renowned big cat conservation organization, generously arranged the loan of some cameras to deploy this summer, in conjunction with a camera-trap training for Tumursukh and the park rangers.

I am excited about this snow leopard mini-project, but there’s a peculiar tension between the two disciplines in which I work. As an anthropologist, I trust the accuracy of the information that I receive from Mongolian herders and hunters, and I know that no matter what kind of background I bring to my work here, I will never know as much about the environment and wildlife of the region as they do. Full credit goes to the community of people who have kept these wildlife populations on the landscape and who understand them far better than I ever will. I have no aspirations to participate in an outmoded colonialist narrative of heroic European “discovery” of things that local populations consider common knowledge. It would be deeply unethical for me, or anyone else living in the 21st century, to generate such absurd and self-aggrandizing stories. My role is as a facilitator, and I see myself as a perpetual student of the people with whom I work, requesting that they teach me what they know, and bringing that knowledge into dialogue with the scientific community.

I’m also a scientist, though, and that makes it difficult to ignore the standards of science when it comes to research. To the global wildlife community, snow leopard presence remains unconfirmed in the mountains around the Darhad. Science operates on the model of visible material evidence, and this is what will be required to finally prove that snow leopards are up there. And as exciting as a single track is, it doesn’t meet scientific evidentiary standards even for distribution, let alone residency. Just as a single wolverine track sighting in Nebraska would not confirm the presence of a breeding population in the state, the detection of this track tells us nothing except that a single animal was there, once. It may have come from Russia, it may have come up from the Khangai in Central Mongolia, it could be a lone dispersing male. It’s hard to keep from giddy excitement, and from making sweeping but scientifically inaccurate claims about ‘proof’ of an unknown population, but such claims would be premature and amateurish. It’s time for steps that will offer verification. I will be heading back up to the Darhad this summer to try to get photos, and to try to determine the prospects for figuring out whether there is a resident population.

If we do confirm presence, I will also be thinking carefully about how to make sure that we tell the story as a narrative of continuity and reinforcement between the vast knowledge of the Mongolians with whom I work, and the precision and material evidence required by the scientific community. This is not about western scientists coming in and generating new knowledge, because the knowledge is old. It’s about bringing this old knowledge into a new light, focused through a slightly different lens. This is important not only from an abstract ethical point of view, but also because the fate of the Darhad’s wildlife will be in the hands of the people who live there, and they must have ownership over the process of protecting it. This means inclusion in and credit for the process of knowledge explication and scientific dialogue, rather than dispossession from that process by outsiders. This line is difficult to walk, but scientists have to find their footing within this territory, even if it’s a challenge.

Of course, wolverines remain the focus of my work, and the same standards of community engagement apply there. I also have cameras from the Wolverine Foundation; combined with the snow leopard cameras, we’ll be able to cover a substantial region. Cameras placed in the high country have as much of a chance of picking up gulos as they do of picking up snow leopards, and I will be working as closely as possible with rangers and other community members to make sure that they are engaged in the entire process. Most of all, though, I am excited to be headed back up into those mountains for another round of trying to track down the Darhad’s snow beasts.

News from the Wider Wild World

I’m working on the remaining posts about my experiences in Oregon, but a time crunch and the unexpected arrival of a wolverine kit in my life have meant that I’ve had less time than usual to write for this blog.

Okay. He’s not really a wolverine kit, he’s my roommate’s 20 month old son. But if ever a human child embodied the wolverine’s ability to wreak havoc in enclosed spaces, this kid is it. Much like Jasper and Banff in the PBS documentary, this child climbs people and furniture, plays with power cords in potentially life-threatening ways, and destroys everything left in his path. He does better when he’s taken outside and exercised, which is how I’ve been spending the time I would normally spend writing. This is fine, for a limited time, and I really like this child, but it has certainly validated my decision not to have kids. So for now, I’m going to be lame and simply post links to a couple of interesting but random wildlife stories that have appeared recently.

First, another piece about snow leopards, and the work of Rodney Jackson to preserve these beautiful animals in mountain ranges from Mongolia to the Himalayas. Snow leopards and wolverines probably share habitat in Mongolia, and learning more about their interactions will be interesting as my work in Mongolia goes forward. Jackson employs a number of techniques that I admire, including working closely with communities and adopting a humble rather than a “foreign expert” role in those communities.

For subscribers to High Country News, a new article highlights the effects of climate change on snowshoe hares in the Rockies. The piece focuses on the work of Scott Mills of the University of Montana, as he tracks 30 collared hares through Montana’s Seeley-Swan Valley. He and his team are trying to figure out how camouflage and color shifts work in hares, and what diminishing snow cover has in store for the species. If color shifts are triggered by changes in day length, then there will be a lot of white hares on bare ground in the fall and spring as snow comes later and leaves earlier. If color shifts are triggered by weather and temperature, on the other hand, then the hares might possess a range of adaptive options and might face less threat as climate change accelerates. Some of Mills’ data suggest that the latter scenario might be the case. I’m amazed and kind of delighted to learn that we still don’t know how color changes work in any of the numerous species that use this strategy. Once in a while, I enjoy a nice, positivist puzzle, and this one could turn out to be particularly interesting.

E.O. Wilson, in book chapter entitled “Two Magnificent Animals,” wrote that he particularly admired wolverines. I’ve written about this, but I never specified that the second magnificent animal of the chapter title is the pitchfork ant, one of the world’s rarest ant species. The blog’s focus on wolverines leaves little room to consider other species, but I agree with Wilson’s opening words on the pitchfork ant:”This is how I see living species: masterpieces, legends.” So I was pleased to learn a little about Oregon’s lesser-known threatened and endangered species, species that share ranks with the wolverine but aren’t (yet) fortunate enough to have a broad-based constituency.

About 25,000 years ago, people in what is now the Czech Republic buried several dogs, apparently wedging a mammoth bone into the mouth of one of them so that the dog would have something to play with in the afterlife. In the beginning of the 21st century – which will be remembered as the era in which it became acceptable to carry tea-cup sized canids to the grocery store in a purse, and in which the quality-of-life of  American dogs surpassed the quality-of-life of humans in many other parts of the world – the discovery of these burials is big news. I like dogs, so I was interested in reading the article on its own terms, but I was especially interested to note that wolverine bones were also found at the site. Further information about the wolverine bones isn’t easily available, but I may go looking through the archaeological literature in hopes of finding out more.

 

 

 

National Geographic article