I recently shared a post about the first verified wolverine sighting in Michigan in some 200 years. Thanks to Scott Ford and Arthur O’Fieldstream, I learned a few more facts about that wolverine. That original sighting was back in 2004. Folks in Michigan were keeping an eye on that wolverine until early in 2010, when it was found dead in Sanilac County.
The most interesting statement in this article (The animal has been sent to a lab for examination to see if a cause of death can be determined.) led us to yet another story on the necropsy.
And then to a story on the results of the necropsy.
It turned out the animal, a female estimated to be about seven years old, died of apparent congestive heart failure. Two hikers found her body partially submerged in water near a beaver dam. Jeff Ford, a teacher at Deckerville High School, had been tracking the animal since 2005. Ford took many photos and videos of the animal and shared them with his students.
A chance sighting of this rare beast by some coyote hunters in 2004 led to Jeff Ford’s odyssey chronicling the animal’s travels, and eventually to the discovery of its body after it died of natural causes.
What lessons can we take from this story? I can think of a few. First, pay attention when you are outdoors! If those coyote hunters had not known what they were looking at, the wolverine might never have been identified and its discovery verified. And if those two hikers had not noticed the half-submerged body of what they thought was a beaver, the next snowfall might have covered the evidence of its demise. Because of all the publicity about the animal, they knew right away what it was. (If you found a dead wolverine today, would you know what it was?)
Second, follow your curiosity. If Jeff Ford had not cared enough to learn more about that wolverine, the story might have ended with that first sighting. Because he DID care, for a decade his students were able to follow the whereabouts of arguably the most interesting mammalian discovery in Michigan in the past century. Who knows (I’ll bet Ford does!) how many of those students were inspired to go into a career in natural resources? Perhaps one of them will answer the mystery of Michigan wolverines – where did they go? Why haven’t they come back?
Third, just when you think you understand nature, it throws you a curve. No wolverines in Michigan? Well, there was one at least. Are there any more, perhaps in the vast national forests of the U.P? Remember that cougar that traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Connecticut, where it was hit by a car and killed?
Again, thanks to the scientific curiosity of a few key people, we learned that animal passed through Wisconsin in 2009-2010 on its way east. Now – was that the only cougar to travel 2,000 miles out of its range in search of a mate? As secretive as these big cats are, I’d be willing to bet there are others out there, perhaps in New York’s Adirondacks, or the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or for that matter, just about anywhere in Maine!