The animals that I’ve found difficult to see in the Highland Wildlife Park (HWP) are wolverine (Gulo gulo). We’ve found the best times are when the park first opens in the morning as they tend to be quite active then. We’ve had several visits where we haven’t seen any as they have been well camouflaged by the topography of their enclosure. But this week when we visited they were quite active for periods throughout the day. In the wild wolverine would be a largely nocturnal animal but do have some daylight activity.
Of course, we have to remember that the wolverine is a very shy creature who, in the wild, will often be a loner. The female will dig out a den in the snow and will give birth to her kits there. She will then be visited by the male from time to time after the kits have been born. This week, at the HWP we saw one wolverine running around, and then suddenly saw a second one. As you’ll see from the photo it was hidden away by the topography and initially we only saw the face.
Wolverine belongs to the mustelidae or weasel family. However, they are much bigger than a weasel being 66 to 86 cms long, the tail can add another 18 to 25 cms to their length. They weigh approximately 11 to 18 kgs. They are known to have a fierce nature and are very strong. Their legs are very powerful and paws end in very strong claws. In the snow their paws are known to spread to almost twice their normal size as they spread flat and wide to act as snowshoes. In the wild they live, on average, about 7 years.
One of the most distinctive things about the wolverine is their coat. This is thick and oily and is almost impenetrable to water which means it can live in exposed shelters in harsh conditions. Wolverine don’t live in the wild in Scotland but are resident in the circumpolar regions of the United States; Canada; Norway; Sweden; Finland; Russian Federation; China; Mongolia. They are also present in Estonia but are a vagrant population.
In the wild females have a range of 100 to 200 km2 while the males have 100 to 500 km2. This means that there will be several females within the range of one male. They normally have extensive seasonal movements and normally prefer living in boreal forests made up of pines, firs, spruce etc. and tundra. Within the HWP the male and female wolverine normally share the same tree and bush studded enclosure.
In the wild, being an omnivore, Wolverine have a varied diet. While they will eat berries and plants they tend to prefer meat. They actively hunt smaller animals eg rodents, musk-deer, hares and roe deer; and, have been known to hunt larger animals such as moose, reindeer and sheep. Wolverine are well known as scavengers eating prey which have been abandoned by other carnivores as well as animals that have succumbed to injury or disease. They can eat parts of prey that others don’t such as bones and teeth.
Wolverine also cache large amounts of meat. Recent research has shown that they live in a ‘refrigerator zone’ where insects and bacteria won’t spoil their meat. They also have a keen sense of smell which allows them to locate prey 20 feet under the snow.
They are categorised as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List but their numbers are decreasing. One of their threats is global warming affecting the arctic polar area as they build their natal dens into snow. However, they are also affected by increasing urbanisation, tourism, recreation, roads & railroads, farming & ranching, logging/wood harvesting, hunting & trapping. Their main predators are wolves but normally predators such as bears, mountain lions and eagles would go after young and inexperienced wolverines as they aren’t as strong as the adults.
Next time we visit the HWP I’ll make sure I take a few minutes longer to watch the wolverine and if I can’t see them immediately I’ll spend some time looking for them up a tree, hiding under bushes or nestled in a hollow in the landscape.
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