- The California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed three sightings of a single wolverine in the Inyo National Forest and Yosemite National Park.
- This is the second wolverine sighting in California since the 1920s.
- While more common in Canada and Alaska, wolverines are a threatened species in California.
Scientists got pretty excited to see a wolverine this May, wandering the mountains of California. Even more thrilling was the fact that they saw this single wolverine three separate times, confirming the presence of the second known wolverine in California in the past 100 years. Wolverines are considered a “threatened species” in the state.
The largest terrestrial member of the weasel family, the roaming wolverine (which arguably more closely resembles a small bear) was seen on three separate occasions over a couple of weeks in both the Inyo National Forest and Yosemite National Park. The sightings were established by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
“Wolverines can travel great distances, making it likely that the recent sightings are all of the same animal,” Daniel Gammons, CDFW senior environmental scientist, said in a statement. “Because only two wolverines have been confirmed in California during the last 100 years, these latest detections are exciting.”
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Images and video of the creature captured by different parties helped the CDFW identify the animal as a wolverine by putting on display its size, body proportion, coloration, and movement patterns.
Not only is this only the second wolverine spotted in the last 100 years in California, but it’s also the second wolverine spotted in the state in the last five years. The last wolverine seen in California was spotted continuously from 2008 to 2018. Before that one, the last confirmed wolverine sighting occurred in the 1920s. With a lifespan typically no greater than 13 years, experts believe this new wolverine isn’t the same as the one first seen in 2008.
While commonly found in the mountains of Canada and Alaska, wolverines grow scarcer as you travel south. Although still found in both the Rocky and Cascade mountain ranges, by the time you reach California mountains, the creatures become downright rare.
Julia Lawson, an environmental scientists with CDFW, tells the Los Angeles Times that wolverines are solitary animals, so this newfound specimen may not have others with it. “Our speculation,” she says, according to the newspaper, “as to why this wolverine made it down here was it was a huge snow year.”
More abundant over 100 years ago, the decrease in wolverine population is likely thanks to humans trying to rid the region of the bear-like animal, as wolverines commonly preyed on livestock.
With the new sighting comes a renewed sense of scientific urgency. Lawson said that the team hopes to study the wolverine by collecting genetic samples from the individual. A two-in-a-hundred event like can certainly get folks excited.
Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.