Wolverine Captured on Yellowstone Trail Cameras for the First Time

The species’ numbers in the United States were diminished by predator control efforts and trapping

Wolverine atop tree log
A Wolverine atop a tree log. MatthiasKabel via Wikipedia Commons under GFDL and CC-BY 2.5

Biologists at Yellowstone National Park finally have footage of an elusive resident. Camera traps near the park’s Mammoth Hot Springs captured a wolverine traveling through a snowy forest, reports Brian Kahn for Gizmodo. The park shared the video—originally recorded on December 4, according to KTVB7—on social media last week.

Seven wolverines—five males and two females—were documented on Yellowstone’s eastern grounds and connected national forests from 2006 to 2009, according to the National Park Service. However, this new sighting marks the first time a wolverine has been caught on film since remote cameras were placed throughout the park in 2014, as stated by Yellowstone’s Facebook post. The cameras were installed to track the site’s cougar population, but have been useful in recording other species as well.

Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are carnivores in the weasel family who grow up to four feet long and are present throughout the year in low-density populations, according to the National Park Service. They are mostly solitary creatures who inhabit cold, high-elevation forests and tundras, and carve out dens in snowpack to give birth. According to the Wolverine Foundation, the species is present throughout upper parts of the Northern Hemisphere where spring snow is prevalent, including Russia, Canada, Alaska, and northwestern regions in the contiguous United States.

Catrin Einhorn of the New York Times reports that scientists estimate about 300 wolverines exist in the lower 48 states, a smaller population size compared to wolverines in Alaska and Canada. Scientists also predict that the contiguous United States could host around double the wolverines currently present, though they say many have not historically existed below Canada due to population density and habitat needs.

Predator control and commercial trapping drove their distribution down in the contiguous U.S. by the 1930s, but even with population recovery efforts, large areas where wolverines used to reside haven’t had recently documented sightings, according to the National Park Service. Climate change is expected to reduce viable wolverine habitat to just three areas by 2050: portions of the southern Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and greater Yellowstone.

The Yellowstone discovery comes months after Mount Rainier National Park in Washington reported a wolverine mother and two kits were spotted on its park cameras. A National Park Service news release stated that it was the first appearance of a wolverine family at the park in over 100 years.

“It tells us something about the condition of the park,” said Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins in a press release, “that when we have such large-ranging carnivores present on the landscape that we’re doing a good job of managing our wilderness.”