The sometimes ferocious, though admittedly adorable Gulo gulo, known commonly as the wolverine, has inspired North Americans for centuries. From the grand legends of indigenous peoples, to countless sports teams across modern America (and yes, Hugh Jackman), these mid-sized carnivores are a staple of our culture.
But have you ever actually seen a wolverine in the wild? Most haven’t, and never will. Wolverines are elusive creatures. As such, the National Parks Service notes there were only seven wolverines documented in the Greater Yellowstone area between the years of 2006 and 2009.
And now – this rarest of Yellowstone National Park‘s mammals is showing up on a wildlife camera for the first time in park history.
Posting to their Facebook page, park officials announced the remarkable footage this Wednesday. The capture comes courtesy of remote, hidden wildlife cameras within the Mammoth Hot Springs area.
Wolverine Trail Camera Footage a Breakthrough
Yellowstone‘s video shows the elusive wolverine early on a December 4th forage. Within, we see it scampering its rich brown coat across a snowy forest. The footage marks the first time this large weasel relative has been filmed on-grounds in the park’s long history.
Remote wildlife trail cameras, like the one used for this exceptional clip, were first implemented in 2014 by the national park. Their initial purpose? Yellowstone says they meant to monitor the cougar population, but have wound up with so much more.
“Last month, park biologists were excited to find one of Yellowstone‘s rarest mammals triggered a remote trail camera outside the Mammoth Hot Springs area!” Yellowstone lauds in their Facebook post. “This technology has since become increasingly valuable for detecting and monitoring a variety of species and aspects of Yellowstone’s ecology,” the park continues.
Get to know North America’s Largest Mustelidae
“Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are mid-sized carnivores in the weasel family that typically occupy high-elevation alpine and forest habitats. They exist in low densities in the park and are rarely [seen],” Yellowstone adds of the elusive wolverine. These stocky, muscular meat-eaters are the largest of their weasel kin. Due to their resemblance to bears, rather than others in their Mustelidae family, the wolverine’s lineage was long subject to debate by biologists. The onset of DNA sequencing in the late 20th century solved this conundrum, however.
Yellowstone National Park notes that a small population of wolverines currently exists within their borders. Climate change, however, may force these secretive mammals to become far more reclusive. If current trends continue, park biologists believe that wolverine territory will become severely limited by 2050. If this happens, only the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and greater Yellowstone may house the mammals.
While they are not currently endangered, wolverine populations were decimated in the 1920s and 30s. This was, in large part, due to the commercial trapping industry. Further predatory-animal control efforts in the contiguous 48 states only hastened their decline.
As a result, wolverines have become one of the most rarely-photographed mammals in all of North America.
Close to Endangerment
“Wolverines are so rarely seen and inhabit such remote terrain at low densities that assessing population trends is difficult and sudden declines could go unnoticed for years,” NPS adds on their official website.
“Climate change impacts on wolverine habitat, specifically the likelihood of declining habitat in high elevation snowpack for denning females, [remains] a chief threat to this species,” they continue.
As a result, the wolverine seems destined for the endangered species list. Conservationists in Yellowstone and elsewhere are, however, hard at work in preventing this.
[Sourced: Yellowstone National Park]