Researchers in Utah made a “once-in-a-lifetime” find last week, trapping a live wolverine after the reclusive carnivore was suspected in 18 sheep deaths in the area.
The wolverine was first spotted by U.S. Department of Agriculture workers who were flying over Rich County on Thursday. The USDA wildlife services personnel were doing livestock protection surveillance when they saw the fearsome mammal eating a dead sheep.
Traps with sheep meat were immediately put out in collaboration with biologists, wildlife services personnel and local sheepherders.
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The elusive animal was found in a trap mid-morning Friday, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Biologists sedated the wolverine, a male about 3 or 4 years old, and performed a general exam.
He was affixed with a GPS collar that would allow wildlife personnel to monitor his movements and whereabouts. Officials released him on public lands in the Uinta Mountains by Friday evening.
Jim Christensen, northern region wildlife manager for the DWR, called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“Having a collar on this wolverine will teach us things about wolverines in Utah that would be impossible to learn any other way,” Christensen said. “Four different wolverine sightings were confirmed in Utah in 2021. Were we seeing the same animal or different animals last year? Having a collar on this animal will help us solve that riddle.”
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Though wolverines look like small bears and seemingly share a name with a certain canine, they are actually a subspecies of the Mustelidae family, which includes weasels and otters. Wolverine populations in North America have been in relative decline over recent years and have only been sighted eight times in Utah since 1979.
Typically, wolverines were commonly seen in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California and the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
The federation says it is estimated that 30 percent of the wolverines’ habitat will be eradicated in the next 30 years due to climate change and that the species is under consideration for protection through the Endangered Species Act.