October 24, 2016
First Wolverine Appears In North Dakota After 150 Years, Promptly Shot To Death

A wolverine named M56 was still wearing his radio collar when he was gunned down by a rancher in North Dakota, who proudly posted the rare animal's photo on his Facebook page with a caption, "killed this here critter out tormenting the cows."

The wolverine was the first one seen in North Dakota in over 150 years.

Its killing caused massive outrage across social media.

The rancher said that the cows had formed a defensive circle around the creature. He wasn't sure if it was aggressive, nor did he even know what it was.

But the shooting was legal, according to the Huffington Post. North Dakota law states that a landowner can kill any wild animal if they are a threat to livestock.

Wolverines are not classified as an endangered or threatened species. There has been increasing controversy over adding them to the endangered list due to loss of habitat and effects of climate change.

Defenders of Wildlife, according to their blog, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a Montana district court over their failure to protect the wolverines through the Endangered Species Act. The case was given a nod last week by a Montana judge, who stated that the Fish and Wildlife Service "unlawfully ignored the best available science by dismissing the threat to the wolverine posed by climate change... and by genetic isolation and small population size."

The North Dakota wolverine, M56, was originally collared and tagged at Yellowstone National Park in 2009. He then made headlines when he traveled 500 miles from Wyoming to Colorado.

Three years later, his collar stopped transmitting. He was shot about 700 miles from where he was last seen.

Jeb Williams of the Department of Fish and Game said that the wolverine had "taken the scenic route."

"A wolverine in North Dakota is pretty darn significant and neat. We've had some reports of sightings in the past, but to have them confirmed and to have the transmitter associated with the history it provides is really cool for people to see."

"In some ways it's a little mind-blowing that they can travel that far," Bob Inman, a wolverine biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the Billings Gazette. "But that's what we're learning is possible."

Wolverines typically frequent Canadian wilderness and most in the lower 48 states are found in Montana. There have been a few reports in Minnesota recently, and one in Michigan.

The largest member of the weasel family, the wolverine is also known as the carcajou, skunk bear, Indian devil, and ommeethatsees (Cree word, pronounced omaydatcheese). It has a reputation for being pugnacious, but many of its habits remain a mystery. It has omnivorous tendencies and, like most predators, is opportunistic. But it is remarkably tough and can take down a much larger animal, including caribou.

According to necropsy results, M56 was identified as being between 8 and 9-years-old. He had attained national fame in the wolverine universe, having been the first verified wolverine in Colorado in 90 years.

Photographer Ray Rafiti recalled an encounter with M56 in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2009.

"After a couple weeks of wandering across Wyoming he found his way to Colorado.

"On that evening he walked right in our laps. I was fortunate to capture several photographs before he ran up the hillside and out of sight."

The Guardian reported that Rafiti described seeing the wolverine in Colorado as a profound experience.

"I've got a strong personal attachment to this animal.... To have that kind of encounter was personally incredibly thrilling."

But Rafiti said that when he saw photos of the animal's body this week, "the sadness turned to really frustration and anger."

"The total population of wolverines in the lower 48 is around 200 animals."

Rafiti hopes that M56's death will encourage officials to pursue stronger regulations protecting wolverines.

"We'd really like to see something good come out of it."

The Wolverine Blog states that "storied wolverines... they are rare, and they hint to us of all the wild and unseen and amazing lives that go on beyond our awareness. That's something worth thinking about."

[Image via Michal Ninger/Shutterstock]