Second wolverine sighting likely ‘transient’ creature

Wolverines were once driven out of Utah, but some seem to be starting to return, an expert says.

(James Shook | Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) Visitors to Utah’s Antelope Island saw a wolverine on May 4 running across Bridger Bay at the northwest end of the island in the Great Salt Lake. The rare predator is almost never seen in Utah, but state wildlife biologists have confirmed the animal in this and other photos and video footage shot July 1 appears to be a wolverine.

A wolverine was spotted in west Layton Thursday morning, according to a Ring video posted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources — the second time one of the carnivores was spotted in just a few months.

One of the animals was also spotted on Antelope Island May 4, and biologists from the Division of Wildlife resources believe it’s likely the same wolverine — a species described as rare in Utah and typically found in high mountain areas.

This is the sixth confirmed wolverine sighting in Utah. Before 2021, the last confirmed sighting was in June 2016. Research biologist Jeff Copeland, who serves on the board of directors for the Wolverine Foundation, a nonprofit composed of wildlife scientists interested in the species, said the sighting was likely a transient wolverine.

Wolverines usually occur in equal male and female populations across their habitat, but as polygynous carnivores, the males usually establish with one to three females in their territory.

“So where are those other two males?” Copeland said. “Well, those are the transients that end up in places like Salt Lake City and, you know, out in deserts and just places we don’t expect them that are just traveling trying to find a place to establish.”

Male wolverines actually help a lot with raising their offspring, often linking with the children after the mother leaves. Female wolverines typically have two kits in the spring, and will wean them for a few months before traveling with them for the summer.

“[Female wolverines will stay with the kits] until she feels they’ve reached some level of maturity that they can function on their own, and then she just abandons them. They then often find their father,” Copeland said. “He will help them for maybe another year. They’ll stay with him or they’ll eat with him, occasionally learning where to find food and how to survive. When they’re reproductively mature at about two years old is generally when they will disperse.”

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said in a June news release that the ongoing drought may lead to more wildlife traveling into Utah neighborhoods “in search of food and water,” but that deer and other wildlife should be treated with caution when spotted.

“The best way you can help wildlife is by letting animals stay wild,” DWR Wildlife Section Chief Justin Shannon said. “Don’t approach them, and don’t try to feed them. These animals have evolved to be able to survive numerous weather conditions and to make it on their own. Often people’s good intentions wind up doing more harm than good for the wildlife. Not to mention, it can be really dangerous when deer, moose or bears become habituated and lose their fear of people.”

Copeland said the drought is not likely to be the reason for the wolverine’s appearance — more likely, it’s just the creature returning to some of its natural territory. The wolverine was mostly weeded out of the western United States by the 1930s, but began reoccupying its natural area in the 1960s — except for Colorado, Utah and California.

The return of the wolverine is actually a “pretty big success story,” Copeland said, when other carnivores — like wolves — haven’t been able to do it without help from humans. Wolverines also live at very low densities, with one of the highest populations of the species in Montana’s Glacier National Park at only 40.

Individuals like the one sighted at Antelope Island and west Layton are likely looking for a “home range,” or a place to establish, something only a small proportion of wolverines do.

“In doing so they can end up in some really odd places we’ve seen over the years,” Copeland said.

Wolverines aren’t dangerous to humans — they’re just naturally curious.

“If they see something that interests them, they’re going to investigate it, and because they’re fearless they’re not afraid to walk across town or along a road, and then unfortunately, that can occasionally cause their demise,” Copeland said.

“That’s kind of the risk of being a wolverine and trying to disperse,” he continued. “They’re not going to avoid human settlements or towns to the degree that other animals, cats and dogs and such, might do.”