The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed that multiple sightings of what is believed to be the same wolverine occurred in May in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Two sightings were in the Inyo National Forest in Inyo and Mono counties. A third sighting occurred in Yosemite National Park in Tuolumne County.
Images and video of the wolverine, taken in May by separate individuals in different locations, were sent to CDFW for analysis, which consulted with wolverine experts from the U.S. Forest Service. Scientists identified the animal as a wolverine by its size, body proportion, coloration and movement patterns. CDFW field teams then confirmed the sighting locations through coordinates imbedded in the photos and video.
“Wolverines can travel great distances, making it likely that the recent sightings are all of the same animal,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Daniel Gammons. “Because only two wolverines have been confirmed in California during the last 100 years, these latest detections are exciting.”
Scientists documented a single wolverine in California from 2008 to 2018. That wolverine was first discovered in February 2008 in the Truckee region of the Tahoe National Forest. The recent detections were likely of a different wolverine given that the species’ lifespan is typically 12 to 13 years.
Prior to that, the last confirmed wolverine sightings in California were in the 1920s.
Wolverines are the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family and resemble a small bear. They are widely distributed in Canada and Alaska with smaller populations in the Rocky and Cascade mountains. In California wolverines are classified as fully protected and listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.
CDFW plans to collaborate with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to collect genetic samples from the wolverine through hair, scat or saliva found at feeding sites. The public is encouraged to report sightings or observations to CDFW through its Wildlife Incident Reporting system.