Wolverine takes a road trip

09/22/04

Scientists track male animal over a three-state, 550-mile walk-about

NEW YORK (September 22, 2004) Scientists from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) may have referred to the wolverine they were tracking as simply "M304," but "Lance Armstrong" may be more descriptive as the young male embarked on a six-week journey that covered some 550 miles within three western states. The results of the study are published in the latest issue of the journal Northwest Science.

The WCS scientists had equipped the wolverine with a Global Positioning System (GPS) collar to better understand the habitat needs of this largest member of the weasel, weighing in at up to 55 pounds. After WCS released the collared animal, it immediately moved from Wyoming's Grand Teton Mountains to the Portneuf Range in Idaho and then back again, covering some 256 miles in just 19 days. It then trekked to Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, and back to the Tetons in a week, a distance of 140 miles. In total, it covered some 543 miles over 42 days before its collar fell off.

"This particular wolverine not only covered some incredibly long distances and rugged terrain, but also a variety of land ownerships including three states, two national parks, four national forests, tribal lands, a U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, and private lands," said WCS Conservationist Robert Inman, the lead author of the study. "While these data come from only one individual, they suggest that wolverine populations may function over a huge geographic scale.

Sustaining wolverines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will benefit from efforts to maintain habitat between increasingly fragmented mountain ranges, as well as cooperation across a variety of agencies and private land owners, according to Inman.

Wolverines were nearly eliminated from the continental U.S. by around 1920, though some recolonization has taken place in recent decades. However, little is known about these rare carnivores, and previous proposals to list them as a federally threatened species have been rejected due to a lack of data that documents declines caused by human related threats.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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