Wolverine Ditches Idaho, Ends Up Lonely in California

buddy wolverine photo
Photo: fiskfisk / CC

The woods, meadows, and streams of California's Tahoe National Forest make up a diverse ecosystem, rich in biodiversity and home to a variety of wild animals -- but for one male wolverine that calls the region 'home', things are a little on the lonely side. Buddy, as he's known, was first spotted three years ago, the first confirmed sighting of a wolverine in California since 1922. Researchers believe the animal is originally from Idaho -- and that he walked the harrowing 500 mile journey, in defiance of the odds, only to wind up as the only wolverine in town.Wolverines were once not such an uncommon sight in California, though their populations fell in dramatic declined due to habitat loss and over-hunting, until they seemed to be wiped out entirely early in the last century. Easily mistaken for an overgrown cat, wolverines were intermittently spotted in the years following, but it wasn't until Buddy was seen in 2008 that the animal's presence in the state was confirmed -- even if it was just one lonely male.

Since then, researchers have tried to monitor him as best they can -- or rather, when Buddy will allow them. "He's gone before you even have a clue he's there," wildlife biologist Amanda Shufelberger told the Sacramento Bee. "He does not want to see you."

Using motion-sensing cameras baited with chicken, biologists have been able to track his movement through the forest, and so far, he's always been without a companion. Occasionally, he can be heard bellowing for a mate in the dark woods -- calls that, sadly, have yet to be answered.

Further dimming hope that Buddy signals a revival among wolverines in California is the fact that he's a non-native himself. DNA testing performed on a tuft of his fur reveals that the animal is actually from Idaho, hundreds of miles to the north. It is believed that Buddy ventured to the region by himself, surviving numerous highway crossings and occasionally inhospitable environments to get where he is today.

He may be a long way from home, far from prime wolverine mating grounds -- but researchers are still hoping for the best for Buddy.

"It's human nature to root for the underdog. This is like the under-wolverine," said Bill Zielinski, from the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific, to the Bee. "Here, against all odds, is an animal that has made an amazing trek to be with us in California. Any betting person would not have guessed it would have persisted as long as it has."

Zienlinski, like many who sympathize with the animal's solitude, say they would like to see females wolverines reintroduced to the region to reciprocate in Buddy's desire to procreate, believing it could be a boon to a native creature all-but extinct in California -- but there in lies the problem. Political uncertainty surrounding the animal's current status limit what interventions can be undertaken to bend the natural rules of animal coupling.

Despite the disheartening belief that Buddy is the only wolverine in California, however, based on the description from one of the few people to have seen him in person, his solitude hasn't been hurting his diet. "It looked like a big, very overgrown, very furry cat with a stocky body, short legs, a short bushy tail and a bit of a smushed-in face."

It sounds like Buddy could make some potential mate a very lucky lady-wolverine. Here's to hoping he finds her.

Thanks to Ken for the tip!
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