Utah state officials have captured a live wolverine and fitted it with a GPS collar for the first time ever in the state. These rare animals have only had eight confirmed sightings in Utah since 1979, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
"It's amazing to get a chance to see a wolverine in the wild, let alone catch one," DWR Northern Region Wildlife Manager Jim Christensen says in a statement. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Personnel from the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services team first spotted the animal near Randolph, Utah—about two hours northeast of Salt Lake City—as they were flying over the area for livestock protection work on March 10. The wolverine was feeding on a dead sheep, one of 18 it had killed or injured that morning, per the DWR.
According to officials, Utah DWR set up traps using two sheep hindquarters as bait and caught the wolverine on March 11. Biologists sedated and examined it, determining that it was a male between three to four years old. It weighed 28 pounds and was 41 inches long from its nose to the end of its tail. After it was collared, officials released it in the Uinta Mountains.
Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family. They are known for being ferocious predators with the ability to take down animals several times their size. Though they often hunt smaller animals or scavenge, they can kill an animal as large as a caribou, if the animal is weak or injured, per National Geographic.
Wolverines are primarily found in remote northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America. Utah is located at the very southern edge of the wolverine's current range in the U.S., but their historical range once spread across northern regions of the country. Wolverine numbers declined in the 1900s because of trappers and predator control efforts, per the National Park Service. It’s now thought that only about 25 to 300 live in the lower 48.
These animals rely on snow for their dens, and climate change is considered one of their main threats.
"Wolverines are very rare to see because they are largely nocturnal, and they travel quickly, typically not staying in one area long enough to be found or seen," DWR Wildlife Conservation Biologist Adam Brewerton said in a statement last year.
Wolverines can have a home range as large as 350 square miles, per the DWR, and they can travel up to 15 miles a day in search of food.
Last year, Utah officials confirmed four wolverine sightings, though it was unclear whether they were all the same animal. The GPS collar will provide “invaluable information to biologists,” per the DWR, which will be used to manage wolverines in Utah.
"The opportunity to capture and be able to study an animal that we've wanted to know about for a long time, but that's so difficult to capture and get a GPS collar on, so you can track it, it's really cool to have been able to," Mark Hadley, a Utah DWR spokesperson, tells ABC7.