For wildlife enthusiasts in North America, the holy grail of rare animal sightings has to be the fearsome wolverine. They live in the high alpine, they don’t tolerate much human presence, and there simply aren’t that many of them. In the lower 48 the experts estimate that only about 300 remain. Even in Alaska, where the population is a bit healthier, an adult male’s home range can be as large as 260 square miles, and they are extremely territorial. All these factors combine to make for an animal that is very rarely seen, even by biologists that devote their lives to studying these creatures.
Last Friday, I was lucky enough to see two on the same hillside. We had hiked all morning and climbed to around 2500’ of elevation, which around here is treeless tundra above timberline, and we were beginning to posthole through the remnant snow fields.
We were just about to turn around when I spotted an outline of a bird, backlit by the blinding white of the snowy peaks ahead. I raised my field glasses and as I’m trying to decide if I’ve got a Pipit to add to the list, one of the guests shouts “There’s a bear! Up on the hill!” Then the father yells “Yeah, it’s a brown bear!” I’m scanning the hillside furiously now, Pipit be damned, pretty sure I’m not going to see a brown bear, fairly sure I will see a black bear, but with a glimmer of hope that I will instead see that ghost of the ice and rocks that the Indians call the Skunk Bear.
Sure enough, out from a grassy patch in the snow far above, a wolverine lopes directly uphill and into the alders above and out of sight. “Incredible!” I say, and begin to explain to everybody how lucky we just were to have witnessed “Gulo gulo” (Glutton glutton, as the Latin name implies) in person. Then of the boys says “No, he’s still right there.” He directs my gaze back to the original grassy patch, and sure enough, there is a second wolverine, laying there in the grass and allowing us a nice long look. After a few minutes, this one stands and lopes off downhill, opposite the direction of the first one.
It’s all supposition of course, but my theory is that these two wolverine were mating, or at least discussing their amorous intentions in the way that only wolverines can. My only hope is that the deed was consummated as opposed to interrupted, because we could definitely stand a few more wolverines in the world.