A wolverine has been spotted in California, and no, we don’t mean Hugh Jackman.
Though wolverines were once common in California’s mountains, this is only the second time a wolverine has been spotted in the Golden State since 1922, when the last known member of what had been a robust population died. Wolverines (scientific name: Gulo gulo) are often found throughout Alaska and Canada. They also live Colorado, Montana and Idaho, but these solitary creatures are rarely spotted.
Since 1922, the scientists at California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife have known of only one wolverine in their territory. Wildlife cameras first picked up footage of that wolverine in 2008, which scientists called Buddy, in the Truckee area of the Tahoe National Forest. Buddy was last spotted in 2018, leading officials to believe he’d died. And because female wolverines rarely travel long distances, scientists don’t think Buddy bred any offspring, either, making him the state’s one and only member of the species in the past century.
That all changed in May, when another wolverine was spotted in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
Ryan Campbell was skiing with friends on Mammoth Mountain on May 20. They were riding up the ski lift when someone pointed to a brown, bear-like shape moving across the snow, except it was small for a bear and had a long tail. Campbell took out his phone to snap footage of the curious creature as the group quickly realized that they might be looking at a wolverine. However, as a skier came zooming down the slope, the wolverine darted into the trees and disappeared.
But Campbell and his friends were spot-on in their assumption. Chris Stermer, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife senior environmental scientist, told San Francisco Gate that their ski lift video isn’t the only known footage of this new wolverine.
“I am 99.9% certain that is a wolverine in the photo, which is pretty exciting!” Stermer wrote to SF Gate, which first published May 31. “In fact, the Department has been sent two videos since last week showing what appears to be a wolverine at a distance, and one was taken by someone on a ski lift.”
California Fish and Wildlife officials noted in a statement that because the lifespan of a wolverine is 12-13 years, it’s unlikely this is Buddy reappearing after many years.
Although the wolverine population is dwindling in the Pacific Northwest, they have not yet been given an endangered status sanction by the federal government. However, they are listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.
Wolverines are not dangerous to humans. However, they are famously known for having a pungent odor, as well as for their strength, tenacity and their tendency to take on much larger predators.