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Wolverine came from Wyoming, by way of Colorado

BISMARCK -- Data from a radio tracking device found in the abdomen of a wolverine killed last month in McKenzie County shows the animal spent time at least as far away as Colorado.

BISMARCK -- Data from a radio tracking device found in the abdomen of a wolverine killed last month in McKenzie County shows the animal spent time at least as far away as Colorado.

“That little critter’s put on a lot of miles,” said Jeb Williams, chief of North Dakota Game and Fish Wildlife Division.

“I think that will probably set some new records,” said Stephanie Tucker, the department’s furbearer biologist.

Wolverines resemble small bears but are members of the weasel family. A rancher south of Alexander shot and killed the animal in late April after witnessing it harassing livestock. North Dakota law allows landowners, tenants and their agents to catch or kill any wild furbearing animal other than bears in protection of poultry, domestic animals or crops.

The radio tracking device was found during a necropsy of the wolverine. Tucker said she was hoping to learn the animal’s condition, approximate age and sex and was surprised to find the device, which answered plenty of questions about it.

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The device was inserted in 2008 when the wolverine was captured as a juvenile in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park. The wolverine’s last known location was Colorado in 2012. The battery in the radio tracking device likely was depleted after that and did not give any further location information.

“Nobody knows where it has been since 2012,” Williams said.

Wolverines are found in the mountains of Montana and the forests of northern Canada. Male wolverines are known to travel great distances in search of habitat, food and other wolverines. Williams said he and other wildlife officials were surprised by how far it had traveled, though they don’t have a lot of background in dealing with wolverines.

“Obviously, we don’t know a lot about wolverines in North Dakota since it’s not a critter that has made North Dakota home in some time,” he said.

Tucker said the wolverine’s teeth had some wear, indicating an older age, but since she hasn’t done a necropsy on a wolverine before, she wasn’t sure exactly how old that would make it. The radio tracking device helped her determine it to be a healthy 8- or 9-year-old male. Wolverines in the wild typically live 10 to 15 years, Williams said.

The wolverine killed in April was the first wolverine confirmed to be in North Dakota in more than a century. The Game and Fish Department said the last confirmed record of one of the animals was in the mid-1800s during the fur trading era.

Tucker said there is no evidence to suggest a population of wolverines in North Dakota. Male wolverines are solitary creatures. Also, wolverines have evolved to live in places with consistent snow cover where they can get away from people.

“We’re just kind of wide-open spaces,” Tucker said. “They are a northern species, so they rely heavily on deep snow cover for some of their life history characteristics.”

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A full body mount of the wolverine will be displayed in the furbearer exhibit at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. Williams said he expects that to take about a year.

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