Wolverine caught near Evanston released into Uinta Mountains

Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources examine a wolverine caught last week in Rich County, Utah, about 40 miles west of Evanston. (COURTESY PHOTO/Utah DWR)

EVANSTON — The combined efforts of a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) biologist and a Utah Department of Agriculture trapper resulted in the capture of a wolverine on the morning of Friday, March 11, approximately 6 miles west of Randolph, Utah. The animal was suspected of having killed 18 sheep in the area.

There have been only eight confirmed sightings of wolverines in Utah since 1979 — but four of those occurred since the beginning of last year. On March 10, an aircraft piloted by personnel from USDA-Wildlife Services was flying over the area and noticed an animal feeding on dead sheep. When the pilot flew closer, he confirmed it was a wolverine and contacted his supervisor, who then contacted DWR.

DWR Northern Region Wildlife Manager Jim Christensen was quoted in a story by NBC News. “It’s amazing to get a chance to see a wolverine in the wild, let alone catch one,” he said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Trapping the wolverine involved setting up two separate barrel traps, removing all of the dead sheep from the area and placing a sheep’s hindquarters in each of the traps. When the private landowner and a sheepherder checked the traps early on March 11, the hindquarters were still in the traps and there was no sign of the wolverine. Later that morning, one of the men again checked the traps, saw the door on one was closed and called DWR. 

Rich County DWR Conservation Officer Dakota Pray told the Herald he was the first to arrive at the traps, as the location is only 6 miles from his home.

“As I drove to the traps, I kept hoping it really was the wolverine that was caught,” he said. “When I got to the trap, I tried to see inside the cage but there was snow all over it and I had my sunglasses on. I heard a deep growling coming from the cage, and finally I was able to see that it was a wolverine inside.”

Pray said he secured the door to the trap and when the DWR biologists arrived, along with two members of Wildlife Services, they transported the trapped wolverine back to the DWR’s Ogden office. The wolverine is the first one ever to be captured by Utah biologists.

At the Ogden facility, the animal was sedated and then examined. Blood samples were drawn, hair samples taken, teeth checked, measurements and weight were recorded. The wolverine’s heart rate, breathing and temperature were monitored throughout the examination, and alcohol and ice were applied to its armpits and stomach to keep it cool. The wolverine was determined to be a male between 3 and 4 years old, weighing 28 pounds, and was 41 inches long — from the tip of nose to the tip of its tail.

“The animal had good, sharp teeth,” Christensen said, according to a press release issued by DWR. “It was in really good condition.”

Pray said the biologists invited the landowner and his family to come to the facility and watch the examination, which was a great opportunity, especially for the kids to see a live wolverine.

A GPS collar was attached to the animal’s neck, it was placed back in the trap and then the effects of the sedative were reversed.

Christensen was reported to have said, “It took only a couple of minutes for it to start waking up. Pretty soon, it was wide awake and as lively as ever.”

The crew transported the wolverine to the north slope of the Uinta Mountains and released it on public land the evening of March 11.

“It was still a little loopy from the effects of the drug when we let it out,” Pray said, “and he just hung around the area. So I stayed there until midnight, just to make sure the wolverine went deeper into the woods. I wanted him to get far enough away so that someone hiking wouldn’t stumble upon him or someone with a gun wouldn’t see him, get scared and shoot him. He eventually wandered off and I left.”

The GPS collar will allow the biologists to track the wolverine which will provide invaluable information as to when and where the animal travels, the size of its home range and the type of habitats it uses at different times of the year. Biologists will be able to use the information to manage wolverines in Utah, which is at the southern edge of the wolverine’s range in the U.S. They will also be able to determine if they are seeing the same or different animals from previous sightings. Christensen told NBC News that the GPS collar on the wolverine will allow them to learn things about the wolverine in Utah that would be impossible to learn any other way.

“The DWR biologists will be tracking the wolverine with the collar,” Pray said. “But I promise I will check on him all the time. I do a lot of my work on horseback and I will watch for him. Capturing and watching this wolverine was the most amazing and neat experience for me.”

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