The thing about big cities and their surroundings is that it’s gonna be difficult for the wildlife to survive or grow. Sometimes, situation drives them to near extinction in those areas exclusively.
Now, just a bit of a rant here, I live in the outskirts of a metropolitan city, and my neighbors have been trying to diminish the urban wildlife. They blast noise pollutants and kill snakes without checking if they’re dangerous (and knowing the repercussions) and drive recklessly which kills frogs and lizards. I mean, if they could easily catch and kill fruit bats and barn owls, they’d most certainly do it. It’s really frustrating. Alright, rant’s over.
City developments, combined with irresponsible behavior of its citizens, drove wolverines to a bad situation years ago in California. And despite their “least concern” conservation status globally (but not in Europe where they’re listed as vulnerable), they’re a rarity in this state.
However, they’re slowly–and I mean really slowly, making a comeback. According to California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, a wild wolverine was spotted many times, and it’s the second specimen to be verified by experts in the past century.
In May, the wolverine was reported twice in Inyo National Forest and once in Yosemite National Park. They were spotted during a two-week period. Then, experts at the U.S. Forest Service analyzed photos and videos of the animal. They confirmed that it was the same creature due to its body proportions, coloration and movement.
Daniel Gammons, senior environmental scientist at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement, “Wolverines can travel great distances, making it likely that the recent sightings are all of the same animal. Because only two wolverines have been confirmed in California during the last 100 years, these latest detections are exciting.”
Since there’s just one reported wolverine, and they’re very elusive, the recently reported one and the one before (if they’re two different individuals) unfortunately haven’t been tagged.
The last sighting of a wolverine was in 2018 in the California wilderness. The same creature had been previously reported in 2008 within the Truckee region of Tahoe National Forest.
Since wolverines typically only live for up to 13 years, experts believe that the 2023 one is not the same creature.
“Some people may be seeing it and not realizing it’s incredibly rare,” Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tim Daly said.
The only sightings in 100 years
According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, in the records, wolverines used to flourish in the Sierra Nevada until 1922. Apart from this state, the animal, which may resemble small bears, also lives in Alaska and Canada, with smaller populations in Washington and Idaho.
In California, their numbers were significantly reduced due to a combination of hunting, trapping and poisoning to prevent them from preying on livestock.
Since then, they’re listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act and it is illegal to export, kill, possess or purchase them.
Now, wolverines, which are genetically related to weasels and badgers, are mostly solitary and we know that they can walk far. That means any wild specimen found in California likely walked to California wilderness alone.
According to another environmental scientist in the state’s wildlife department, Julia Lawson, “It sounds far-fetched, but that is the most likely explanation. Our speculation as to why this wolverine made it down here was it was a huge snow year”
It’s unclear whether the sightings mean the wolverines are going to stay for good or they’re simply visiting. Nonetheless, it may be the start of good news in the future.
For now, researchers want to find out more about the animal and hope to collect genetic samples such as hair, scat or saliva left at feeding sites.
Those who live in the state, care about the comeback of this animal, and want to contribute, you can participate in reporting wolverine sightings to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Wolverines aren’t the only animal that’s trying to make a return. There are two other animals that make us hopeful about the future of these species: blue whales and sandhill cranes.
Blue whales returning to sub-Antarctic regions
These majestic sea mammals were the victims of large-scale whaling practices and those nearly brought them to extinction. And after being mostly unseen in the sub-Antarctic regions which they used to call home; they’re slowly returning to the area.
According to a study published in Endangered Species Research, the critically endangered whales could make a successful comeback. After analyzing more than three decades of blue whale monitoring data, researchers report with confidence that the creatures finally return to South Georgia region once again.
Previously, there was a survey of these whales off the South Georgia coast in February 2020 when there were 58 reported individuals.
Susannah Calderan of the Scottish Association for Marine Science said that the situation of blue whales wasn’t looking bright. “The continued absence of blue whales at South Georgia has been seen as an iconic example of a population that was locally exploited beyond the point where it could recover,” Calderan said.
However, the sightings and this research may point to a hopeful future.
Mass hunting that devastated blue whales
Antarctic blue whales used to roam the seas freely in abundant numbers, but then they were hunted to death around their home during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Although killed and hunted worldwide, the significant reduction of their population was the most evident off the coast of the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia.
As mentioned, Antarctic blue whales once called this area their home, but between 1904 and 1971 data shows that 42,698 of them were killed off the island’s coastline. Most of the killings took place around or before the mid-30s.
The industrial whaling practices were banned in the 60s, but it was too late. Blue whales were ravaged until they disappeared from the South Georgia region altogether.
It’s been half a century since the mass hunting ended, but the whales didn’t return for so long. Calderan theorized that, in human terms, the area has become a place of generational trauma.
“We don’t quite know why it has taken the blue whales so long to come back. It may be that so many of them were killed at South Georgia that there was a loss of cultural memory in the population, that the area was a foraging ground, and that it is only now being rediscovered,” Calderan said.
Nevertheless, the return of blue whales to South Georgia, regardless the time and numbers, could represent a turning point for the species.
Ohio seeing more sandhill cranes
During the 2023 Midwest Crane Count, a volunteer event of sandhill cranes observation in Ohio, 357 sandhill cranes were observed and reported. The count was coordinated by the Division of Wildlife, International Crane Foundation, and Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative.
This year is the third annual event of sandhill cranes tracking. During the survey’s inaugural year in 2021, Ohio volunteers observed 160 sandhill cranes across five counties. In 2022, there were recorded 311 individuals.
In Ohio, these birds were once gone off the radar. It was only in the late 80s that they were breeding and slowly expanding. Despite having more numbers than the blue whales in South Georgia, they’re still listed as a threatened species in this state.
So far, people who want to see the full recovery of sandhill cranes in Ohio can support them by buying an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp online or onsite. Each stamp costs $15, and for one purchase, the $14 will go to the state’s Wildlife Diversity Fund.