ALEXANDER, N.D. -- A wolverine shot late last month by a ranch hand in western North Dakota came from Wyoming, where a radio transmitter had been implanted in 2008 after the animal was captured south of Yellowstone National Park.
Researchers often implant such transmitters in mammals that frequently crawl in and out of burrows or that live in water.
According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the wolverine’s last known location was in Colorado in 2012. After that, the battery in the transmitting device likely ran out of juice.
When a ranch hand shot the wolverine south of Alexander in McKenzie County, it was about 700 miles from where it last was sighted.
Records from the tracking device shed light on the wolverine’s travels.
“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 Casper (Wyo.) Star Tribune. “But that’s what we’re learning is possible.”
Inman implanted the transmitter, the Star Tribune reported.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department investigated the shooting of the wolverine and determined the rancher was within state law to kill the animal, which reportedly was harassing livestock. North Dakota law allows a landowner, tenant or the person’s agent to kill any wild fur-bearing animal -- except bears -- to protect poultry, domestic animals or crops.
Stephanie Tucker, furbearer biologist for Game and Fish, found the transmitter, which was implanted in the abdomen, while conducting a necropsy test on the wolverine. The male, estimated to be 8 to 9 years old, appeared to be healthy.
“It’s unique, there’s no doubt about that,” Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, told the Herald. “And then for them to see the history attached with it. … A wolverine in North Dakota is pretty darn significant and neat. We’ve had some reports and 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.”
Before finding the transmitter, Game and Fish had planned to conduct genetic tests in an attempt to learn more about the wolverine’s origins. Getting results would have taken months, Williams said, but such tests no longer are necessary.
The last confirmed record of a wolverine in North Dakota was from the fur-trading era in the mid-1800s, but the animals have been known to travel long distances. Minnesota hasn’t had a confirmed wolverine since 1899, but unconfirmed sightings have been reported as recently as last fall in northwest Minnesota.
The closest population of wolverines in North Dakota occurs in the mountains of Montana and the forests of northern Canada, but male wolverines are known to travel great distances in search of habitat, food and/or other wolverines.
“This guy definitely took the scenic route,” Williams said of the wolverine. “I think it’s a bit of a surprise, but one of the things -- say with lions in North Dakota now, too -- is a person can never say never anymore.
“At one point in time, when someone reported a lion sighting, you might question that, and now anymore you just don’t,” he added. “But for a wolverine to show up in North Dakota under these circumstances, it definitely caught a few people by surprise.”
Game and Fish plans to have a taxidermist make a full body mount of the wolverine, which will be on display in the department’s Bismarck headquarters.