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Wolverine seen in Mich. for first time in 200 years

BY NAILA MOREIRA
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 2, 2004

It’s big, it’s ferocious, it growls and it goes by
the name “wolverine.”

But unlike the Michigan hockey team, the wolverine sighted in
Huron County last Tuesday is a rare visitor to the state — so
rare it marks Michigan’s first confirmed sighting in the wild
of the University’s mascot in at least the last 200
years.

“We have pretty good records going back a couple of
hundred years and we have no confirmed records of wolverines
— this is really the first,” said University Museum of
Zoology curator Philip Myers.

A group of coyote hunters discovered the animal near the town of
Ubly, located at the tip of the Thumb.

“They came across these unusual footprints,” said
state Department of Natural Resources biologist Arnie Karr,
“and put the dogs on to see what it was, and lo and behold,
it turned out to be a wolverine.”

The hunters and their dogs cornered the wolverine in a tree
until Karr arrived to confirm the sighting. Karr and the hunters
took photos of the black- and tan-colored animal until it fled the
area.

Wolverines are native to Arctic tundra and brush, Karr
explained, and are currently largely restricted to northern Canada.
“We don’t know why it’s here,” he said.
“It’s certainly way out of its range and way out of its
natural habitat.”

Two theories could explain the wolverine’s presence in the
state, Karr said. The animal could be a wild wolverine that
wandered across frozen Lake Huron. Alternatively, it could have
escaped or been turned loose from captivity.

Myers called the latter possibility more likely. However, since
wild populations of wolverines roam the forests as nearby as
Ontario, “there’s no reason why we couldn’t get
an occasional immigrant across the ice.”

In the early 1900s, Myers said, University biologist and museum
curator Norman Wood tracked down all reports of wolverine sightings
in the state. His findings spanned the previous 100 years and
included news articles, trapper’s reports and even letters
that mentioned wolverines. Yet, “although lots of people
claimed that they had seen or trapped a wolverine, there was
nothing really convincing,” Myers said.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, little is known
about the natural extent of wolverine territory in the United
States, since the animal is shy and rarely observed. The service
cited this lack of information when it refused to list the
wolverine as an endangered species in response to an October 2003
petition by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and five other
organizations.

In Karr’s opinion, Michigan most likely achieved its
nickname, the “Wolverine State,” because of all the
wolverine pelts that passed through the state with the fur
trade.

The wolverine, a member of the same family of mammals as weasels
and badgers, also possesses a natural fierceness and strength that
uniquely suit it for mascot status.

“They are ferocious. They’re very stubborn. During
the summer, they seem pretty clumsy when they move around, but when
they’re on the snow, they’re very quick and
agile,” Myers said. “They’re able to do that
because they have very large feet which act like
snowshoes.”

Myers emphasized that wild wolverines are only dangerous when
cornered and prefer to run away from people.

Still, he said, “I certainly wouldn’t mess with
one.”


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