A rare family of wolverines has made its home at Mount Rainier National Park for the first time in over a century, park officials announced Thursday.
The first reproductive female wolverine and her two offspring – called kits – were discovered by scientist of the Cascades Carnivore Project in collaboration with the National Park Service, officials said.
Sometimes resembling a small bear with a bushy tail, the wolverine is the largest land-dweller of the weasel family. The animal is heavy built with short, rounded ears, small eyes, and large feet that are handy for traveling through snow, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It is estimated that only 300-1000 wolverines inhabit the lower 48 US states, making the carnivore an exceptionally rare sight, said park officials.
“It’s really, really exciting,” said Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins. “It tells us something about the condition of the park – that when we have such large-ranging carnivores present on the landscape that we’re doing a good job of managing our wilderness.”
The elusive wildlife was spotted at the park through camera stations, installed by scientists in 2018, specifically designed to photograph and identify individual wolverines based on their uniquely patterned chest marks. The mama wolverine, named Joni by the Cascades Carnivore Project, was identified as a nursing female.
The national park shared news of the wolverines’ return on Twitter with a clip of the three long awaited animals pictured at the end of a snowfield and then roaming through a meadow into a forest.
Coincidentally, the mysterious creature was recently spotted twice in Washington state outside its usual habitat, on the beach of Long Beach Peninsula and walking down a road in Naselle.
Despite their hostile reputation, wolverines pose no risk to humans lucky enough to spot one in the wild. The animal likely flees at the sight of visitors in the park, said officials.
Since backcountry recreation can disturb wolverines, the park, along with Washington’s National Park Fund, has developed a downloadable carnivore tracking guide to help backcountry enthusiasts develop an awareness for wildlife and recognize their tracks.
Park officials encourage visitors to help monitor returning creatures by reporting any wildlife observations or photos of tracks to the Mount Rainier online wildlife observations database or directly to Cascades Wolverine Project.