Wolverine, © Robin Carleton

The Other Wolverine Who Rivaled X-Men for Fame

M56 never made it to the silver screen, but he fascinated millions, trekking hundreds of miles and bringing much-needed attention to the plight of wolverines.

Originally published in The Huffington Post Denver

His movements were first recorded in Wyoming in 2008. He took off in 2009, heading south for hundreds of miles. He traveled across inhospitable lands looking for a place he might fit in and finally settled in Colorado. He wandered around Colorado for years, then headed north once again, possibly up to Montana. He trekked east across flat lands and found himself in North Dakota.

This is no tale of a wandering, fugitive human, following some wanderlust or trying to find a job. This is M56. He’s a wolverine, the largest (and arguably the toughest) member of the weasel family. These fearless scavengers are incredible — they can drive grizzly bears and wolves away from carcasses, and have been documented climbing 5,000 vertical feet in the middle of winter in less than two hours. M56 was an ambassador for his species, captivating the entire state of Colorado with hope of a reestablished wolverine population, and inspiring all who learned of his immense travels and ability to traverse unlikely habitat. Sadly, wolverine M56’s remarkable life and unbelievable journey ended a few weeks ago near Alexander, North Dakota, where he was killed by a ranch hand who didn’t recognize what M56 was and thought he could threaten livestock.

Scientists studying wolverines in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming fitted M56 with a radio transmitter in 2008 to track his movements. In April 2009, M56 traveled south from the Tetons, through the ‘Red Desert’ in Wyoming and crossed I-80 in Wyoming over Memorial Day weekend. By June, this lone, young male wolverine made headlines when he was spotted (and radio-confirmed) in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was the first time a wolverine was documented in Colorado in more than 90 years. By the time he reached Colorado’s borders, M56 had trekked over 500 miles.

Wolverine, © Anna Yu/iStockHe stuck around and became known as Colorado’s wolverine. In the three years that M56 was tracked by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), he traveled hundreds of miles across our state from Rocky Mountain National Park, across I-70, and even to the mountains southeast of Leadville.
Coloradans were excited about M56 and what he represented for the state. With fewer than 300 wolverines in the lower-48 states, we hoped his presence might signal that Colorado would once again become home to a population of wolverines.

And it wasn’t just residents interested in seeing wolverines return to Colorado. CPW began drafting plans to reintroduce wolverines to Colorado, and held multiple conversations with stakeholders about the possibility of restoring this animal to our rugged mountains. Climate change models predict that Colorado’s southern Rocky Mountains will maintain enough snowpack for wolverines to den with their young, making it one of the best refuges for wolverines from the anticipated effects of climate change.

Sadly, when the Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, CPW put its plans for reintroduction on hold.

M56’s last known location in Colorado was documented in October 2012. Scientists lost track of him after that point, assuming the battery in his tracking device died. But Coloradans’ interest in this remarkable animal held strong. Backcountry hikers kept a watchful eye for M56 (one lucky hiker found him!) and school children asked curiously where he was and what he was doing. It’s safe to say the idea of reintroducing wolverines — and maybe even helping M56 find a mate — caught hold. Now, after learning about M56’s senseless death, many in our state, especially all wolverine fans out there, are left with a surprisingly strong sense of mourning.

Is there anything that can be gained from his passing? M56 may perhaps go down as the most famous wolverine yet known, other than a certain Marvel character. M56’s audacious, wild movements across fragmented, western landscapes is a clear indication of this species’ resilience if we are willing to help them recover. His journey reminds us of the need to connect fragmented lands so wolverines can thrive and to push for wolverine reintroduction in Colorado and other places with quality (but currently unoccupied) wolverine habitat. M56’s story too clearly demonstrates that the patchwork protections afforded by states are insufficient to help this highly imperiled species recover. That’s why we won’t stop fighting to get wolverines throughout the Lower 48 the Endangered Species Act protections they’ve needed for decades.

To best remember and sustain wolverine M56’s immense spirit, we need to harness the inspiration he represents to do something real, substantial, and fast before wolverines across the Lower 48 run out of the snowy habitat they need. Let’s do what M56 did and all wolverines do — push hard, tackle uphill battles, and triumph over boundaries that seem impossible.

The Wolverine’s Day in Court

In their long battle for protection under the Endangered Species Act, wolverines recently got their day in court – and won! Will it be enough to convince USFWS to do the right thing

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29 Responses to “The Other Wolverine Who Rivaled X-Men for Fame”

  1. Greg Parker

    Fantastic animal! First came to my attention maybe 45 years ago when there was a “Wild West” TV programme – can’t remember the programme name or who was in it – except for one episode where there was this mysterious animal basically keeping the homesteaders hostage in their own home. They had a native American friend who knew what it was, but only under the name Cacachu (that’s how it was pronounced but probably not spelled). Anyway – it was a Wolverine of course and it made a fascinating and highly suspenseful programme – not forgotten in nearly half a century 🙂

  2. Garry Rogers

    The pointless killing of this special individual from a rare species indicates just how total is our threat to nature.

    • Pablo Arguello

      The cattle business has caused more harm than good. I stopped eating red meat because of it. I agree 100% with your statement. What an amazing individual this animal was. And in a blink of an eyes and almost always exclusively the killing of such gifts from nature come from our hand, the ugly hand of man.

    • Bryan Kirshon

      Garry killing of one individual and it will take a long time for the habitat to replace it and to replenish.

    • kathy kelly

      a few years ago, after the wolves were released and the packs grew, there was a male wolf that roamed from east to west. not sure where he came from, but do know he made it to california. then he found a female and started a pack. and was killed.

  3. gija

    ,,, M56 martir!!! … repovoam o colorado e façam do rancho o centro d dispersao!!!

  4. Stacey

    Wolverines are one among all wildlife that are truly
    awesome, unique and beautiful! It’s so sad that this wonderful creature was gunned down! So much wildlife and their habitats have been destroyed by us humans which is absolutely wrong and disheartening! There’s a saying that u never know what u had until it’s gone – so true of nature yet taken so lightly as humans are the main cause of desolation and still many do not care!

  5. Joann Stoltz

    humans won’t be happy until all wildlife is gone.they are invading and destroying their habitats . Killing them for their own satisfaction and in some cases monetary value . it is so sad .bless you for all you do

  6. Leon Orkiolla

    The wolverine is such a wonderful creature. I can’t see killing them off. They should just leave it alone it doesn’t kill livestock.

  7. Burnham Gould

    We must protect our wildlife. Senseless shooting must be stopped. I hope hat the farmhand was severely punished as a lesson to others who may be so inclined.

  8. MrsMcDee

    Hopefully the next time a wolverine is killed by some ranch hand, the ranch hand will be arrested, fined and jailed. The fine money will go to the research of tracking Wolverines. If you don’t make people accountable for their actions wild life won’t stand a chance.

  9. m shane

    We don’t appreciate nature and it creatures. As they go so will we. I have admired the wolverine my entire life, what a magnificent animal. My father taught my brother and myself to care for all of nature and every thing has a place and role to play.

    • jane Powell

      Your father is an amazing human being. Imagine a world where people all felt like that. 🐘🐅🐈🐕🙏

  10. Jane Servadio

    Truly disgusting!! Why do people have the urge to kill for no good reason? We are killing everything that is beautiful on our planet and our descendants will pay the price.

  11. deborah eckelhoff

    I care about animals of all kinds. I can’t help in money, for the animals so I pleage for pention in there favor..

  12. corinne white

    Value, save this hardy creature. Don’t allow us humans to destroy it.

  13. Paula

    Highly recommend reading Wolverine Way by Douglas Chadwick….

  14. Mary Ann Dalton

    As always, the cruel, unthinking, hand of man has taken out another of God’s creatures. Most people think first about the threat to them firsthand, and then think they should have done something else AFTER it’s too late. People need to just start thinking first. We need to start protecting our planet, the wildlife, etc. Or this planet will not exist as it is today.

  15. Philip Ratcliff

    Being on the Endangered Species list wouldn’t have helped this individual from a moron’s gun. But the Fish and Wildlife Service is yet another agency where Obama has placed an anti-environmentalist in charge. The agency’s head, Ashe, has done little good for the environment. Failure to list the wolverine, contrary to the agency’s scientists recommendations, is disgusting. The U.S.wolverine population is only in the hundreds.

  16. BENJAMIN BORDA A.

    Is a bless of GOD to know still there in our world several real persons with the human feeling whit all the animals. Specifically with the marvelous wolverine M56’s the greats Caitlin Cattelino and Kylie Paul. Who part of their lives is to protect this specie valiant & intelligent animal against the soulless hunters or farmers who kill not for food, some poor INDEFENCE animals but as those beast say “For Sport” as recently one real beast kill one old and big elephant to show how “brave” (without brain or at least one neuron) is with his gunfire in hands. Other american guard in an american zoo killed to one young peaceful gorilla who is watching one kid who fall to his cage due the the stupid parents who did not take the necessary care with their kid. Instead to use one non letal weapon. Indeed after know those brutal actions and others as the companies and their workers,who in cruel way have the hens, chicken, cows ducks, rabbits, visons farms, etc etc.I feel sad day after day. Without have some way to stop those savage and cruel behavior.

  17. Mark Donnrs

    Ranchers are every one of them, criminals. They are a threat to the future of America should be spending their rotten, sadistic murdering lives in jail.

  18. Rosemary Everett

    What a tragedy that M56 was senselessly killed.
    We must better protect our vanishing wildlife.
    They are magnificent animals God gave us to respect and protect.

  19. Susan Piaggio OKeefe

    What can we as individuals do to help wolverines? I’d like to join the fight to protect and save them. Thank you.

  20. Jane Powell

    I care about animals wherever they are. I live in Australia. Can you tell me why the NFWS has removed protections from animals that need protecting.
    I’d like to know also how a govt with Trump at the helm, god forbid, is likely to treat America’s amazing wildlife and nature. I have been worrying Since seeing photos of his trophy hunting sons with the bodies of their victims. Incredibly beautiful animals that should not be murdered but protected.

  21. Bryan Kirshon

    The wolverine a member of the mustelids at over 60 pounds is a formidable omnivore protecting its turf and burrow from wolves bears and others from the far north it is endangered please protect this creature from extinction go to defenders of wildlife action center

  22. William

    I’d like to make a few points. Wolverines are cool animals! I think CPW should go ahead and reintroduce them in CO. Putting them on the Endangered Species List will only deter the state from reintroducing these amazing animals. The Endangered Species Act has become the enemy of reintroductions, and has actually hurt any real progress in reintroduction efforts across the country. I will remind you Colorado successfully reintroduced the Canadian Lynx without any protection from the federal government. In fact it wouldn’t have happened had the Lynx been designated an Endangered Species. They were planning to bring back Wolverines when they brought back the Lynx. I wish the Defenders of Wildlife would understand that their efforts often deter states from being able to manage and bring back animals that need protection. By not allowing hunting severely hurting private industry. I wish Defenders of Wildlife would take a step back and work with private industry to help these animals.

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