Kalon Baughan is a man on a mission. In partnership with Defenders and the research and education organization Wild Things Unlimited, he’s been working hard as a citizen scientist to document wildlife activity in Montana, and the work has really paid off. Using 10 motion-activated cameras, he has helped us document 500 photos of 53 separate wolverine events in just one year!
While we cannot tell for sure, we are darn certain we have documented up to nine different wolverines based on the unique color patterns of fur on their face, throat, and chest. Best of all, three of those wolverines were young wolverines, called kits! We’ve had our first documentation of a wolverine traveling with two kits; earlier this summer we had images of a different adult traveling with one kit.
One wolverine that I endearingly call Cyclops is a fascinating individual (see pictures). Cyclops appears to have heavily damaged or lost his/her eye (boy, what I’d give to know how!)…yet s/he seems to be doing well and has two kits in tow. While wolverines have a reputation for being hostile loners, they can actually be quite the social characters. Father wolverines don’t abandon their families – they visit the dens of their kits, and for up to two years juvenile wolverines may remain in their parents’ territories sometimes traveling with their mother, sometimes with their father, and sometimes alone. Thus we cannot know whether Cyclops is a male or female for certain without visual or genetic evidence. Either way, we’ll keep an eye out (sorry!) for further evidence of Cyclops’ adventures.
Beyond the cool pictures, we’re gaining valuable insights into wolverine activities with this work. Interestingly, the wolverine activity we’ve captured on camera occurs at low-elevation, non-alpine habitat where wolverines are not typically known to spend a lot of time in Montana, especially during summer. Additionally, this high density of wolverines in one small region is quite uncommon. Our guess is that this may be related to the fact that wolverines are no longer trapped in this part of Montana, which is likely to have subsequently reduced human-related mortality in the area.
Wolverines elsewhere in the state aren’t so lucky. Up to five wolverines may be trapped statewide in Montana within designated trapping districts, according to current regulations. While five may seem like a small number, it may still be too many when you consider there are only an estimated 250-300 individual wolverines in the entire lower-48! Additionally, with wolf trapping now recently legalized in Montana and Idaho (despite efforts from Defenders, our members and other wolf supporters), concern has risen for increased potential of incidental trapping of wolverines, lynx, and other wildlife.
That’s why the efforts of Kalon and Wild Things Unlimited to document wildlife in Montana are so important. We need to learn as much as we can about wolverines and other rare carnivores to add to the understanding of how and where they are vulnerable, and what we can do to protect them. We’re thrilled to be able to support citizen science that ultimately helps conserve imperiled species. Keep up the great work, Kalon and Wild Things!