The wolverine is one of North America's most iconic predators, but it's rarely seen in the wild. As CNN Travel reports, the species recently popped up in a noteworthy place: Scientists have spotted a family of three wolverines in Mount Rainier National Park, marking the animal's first appearance there in more than 100 years.
A member of the weasel family, wolverines were once prized for their fur and hunted to near-extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their numbers have rebounded slightly, but today there are only 300 to 1000 specimens in the lower 48 states. In addition to their small population, wolverines are notoriously elusive, which makes it hard for scientists to study them.
The Mount Rainier wolverines were discovered by the Cascades Carnivore Project in partnership with the National Park Service. In 2018, scientists installed remote cameras designed to detect wolverines' distinctive chest markings in the park. This summer, the camera stations recorded a nursing wolverine and her two kits—Rainier's first wolverine family in a century.
Park officials are hopeful that more wolverines will follow this initial sighting. Wolverines require a large hunting range and are sensitive to environmental changes, so their presence in Rainier speaks to the ecological health of the park as a whole.
The location of the den hasn't been made public for the animals' protection, but park officials say visitors should keep an eye out for them. “Backcountry enthusiasts, skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers can help us monitor wolverines and contribute to studying their natural return to the Cascade ecosystem,” Dr. Tara Chestnut, a park ecologist, said in a press release. “Wolverines are solitary animals and despite their reputation for aggressiveness in popular media, they pose no risk to park visitors. If you are lucky enough to see one in the wild, it will likely flee as soon as it notices you.”
[h/t CNN Travel]