• Whenever I contemplate the possible extinction of some of our most interesting and impressive fauna, I ponder what mental aberrations the individuals of so-called humanity that were responsible for bringing these species to potential annihilation, possessed.
    Among the most endangered species are mammals and many bird species that once were so very plentiful, that that no one ever considered the possibility that human excesses regarding hunting, trapping, and destroying their habitats could wreak upon some of these popular species. Many of you may have heard of the conflicts between the Timber Industry and biologists, over the Spotted Owl. Those who live in the North Central States, and parts of the Rocky Mountain States, may be aware of the animosity that some ranchers have for the Black Tailed Prairie Dog, a member of the ground squirrel family.
    Others may have heard of the relentless shooting of the Passenger Pigeon, a really beautiful bird, once so numerous that ignorant wastrels had fun times shooting them out of their roosting trees, or killed them by hundreds of barrels full for feeding swine.
    Oddly enough, the passenger pigeon, was not an obnoxious bird like the imported European starling, nor did it damage or consume human crops, since these native American pigeons, were forest dwelling birds that fed on acorn mast and seeds, nuts and berries of our forest trees.
    Among the mammals, few were shot as wantonly as our American bison, whose numbers once were in the many millions, and whose range extended from Western New York and Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountain states, south to Texas, and North deeply into Canada. As soon as the cross continental railroad was completed, many of the adventurers headed westward often amused themselves by indiscriminately shooting into the remaining bison herds from the moving trains, thereby wounding or slowly killing hundreds of bison that they never could recover.
    Decades later, wolves were often shot for merely being a wolf; they too were victims of unbridled ignorant hatred, and Old World phobias and superstitions.
    When the Northern and Western parts of America, and some Indian Lands were being ravaged by foreign settlers; trappers for the fur trade occasionally encountered the wolverine. This extremely endangered mammal is one of America’s most interesting, however more superstitions and folklore nonsense abounds regarding this intriguing member of the weasel family than virtually any other species on earth.
    Wolverines are the largest species and most handsome of Mustelids, to which the tiny ermine and long tailed and short tailed weasels belong to; however the closest relative to American wolverines are the Scandinavian subspecies (Gulo gulo) found in limited numbers in Northern Scandinavia, except Denmark.
    Humans have always tended to anthropomorphize their own behavior to non human domestic or wild animals; never considering the fact that wolverines having been pushed to the limits of habitats where prey can be very scarce. Since the trappers were a greedy and basically ignorant lot, only intent upon how much money pelts could be worth, they never considered the demise of a species, but were intent upon getting “theirs” while the supply lasted. Some of the better educated wild animal seekers were paid by zoos, to obtain wolverines for exhibits especially in Scandinavia, but countries such as Austria, Germany, and Norway wanted handsome unblemished specimens to exhibit.
    The uninformed gave the wolverine the name “Glutton” as the pursuit of wolverines meant these hapless animals were forced to keep running from their would be captors, or fur traders. Any mammal that has to hunt for prey animals over huge distances, especially in the taiga, or Alaskan tundra north of the tree line, is likely to be very famished when it does find any prey sources. They naturally tend to eat ravenously or gorge if possible, since they may go for weeks before additional prey is found. If possible wolverines who sometimes may overcome an injured caribou, or find the remains of a wolf or bear kill, may eat quickly and then remove some part of the carcass and try to cache it for future feedings.
    What do wolverines look like and how large are they? Are they a menace to humans? The average male wolverine is roughly the size of the original Shetland sheepdog, or Shelty. Their heads are broader between the ears, and their upright ears are rounded, and sort of bear like. Their muzzles are medium sized and much blunter than a Shelty’s would be, their eyes are a beautiful dark brown, not protruding, and in general their
    head and face is that of an intelligent looking quite attractive mammal. Their body is robustly built and their forelegs are slightly short for their torso and powerfully built, with broad paws. Their coats are usually a dark mink colored brown, with a sash of yellowish-white running lengthwise down their body. The tail is medium-short in length and bushy. Their furry coat which is quite dense in the winter is often their undoing
    I have met Alaskan trappers who still insist that frost will not form on wolverine fur, and many itinerant trappers sell the pelts to use as frost free collars, or ruffs. I found that to be another of the myths surrounding this rare mammal. The average male wolverine may weigh 40 pounds, and many are much less, depending on the availability of prey.
    Wolverines will and do scavenge and when hard pressed for food will attempt to chase a solitary wolf from a kill. Depending on the size of the wolf, and its determination, the wolverine may sometimes succeed, and the wolf may yield to it. However wolverines avoid wolf packs, who may or may not target it.
    As for its “legendary” ferocity, that too has been greatly exaggerated. Biologists that I know and trust in
    Alaska, have informed me that wolverines are usually quite timid of people, and even when they attempted to dig some out of a den, to see if pups were present, the mother wolverine growled and snarled but fled from the den. Wolverines that have languished in a painful leghold trap for several days, will attempt to bite as they are being dispatched, and why shouldn’t they?
    Like other mustelids, wolverines have anal scent glands, which they may discharge when extremely frightened or stressed just as some of our domestic dogs do involuntarily also. As for being dangerous, wolverines have far more to fear from the human biped than we ever could from them.

    I’ve only seen one wild wolverine in my life, and that was when I was returning from the Alaskan North slope and was close to Gates of The Arctic, a most beautiful part of Alaska. The wolverine was quite distant, but through my binoculars, I watched as this beautiful animal was running northward, with its characteristic semi gallop semi-bounding gait. It kept this up as it traversed hills and the valley without breaking its pace. I
    have seen captive wolverines, in the New York Zoological Park. The keeper would enter their enclosure and they seemed to be very friendly to him. He related and demonstrated how playful they can be, and he also introduced me to a book called “Demon of the North”, written by Peter Krott, an Austrian Forester by education; who spent many years researching and owning, handling wolverines in Finland. The book is excellent reading and contains many photographs taken by the owner.
    I have been informed that a solitary wolverine had been seen in the Sierra Mountains of California. Hopefully it has come to no harm but ALL Fish and Game Departments are derelict if they still allow trapping of wolverines. California has had a very poor record in that respect, but Alaska is an absolute disaster regarding trapping of any fur bearing wildlife! This animal needs our protection immediately, and should be on the Endangered Species List NOW!

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 6, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Columns & Contributors, Green


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