According to several news outlets, the first wolverine spotted for more than a century in North Dakota was shot and killed by a rancher. The last one was seen during the fur-trading era of the mid-1800s, reported the Grand Forks Herald.
Researchers had been tracking the omnivorous animal, known as M56, for quite some time. A radio tracking device was installed under the it’s skin in 2008 after its capture just south of Yellowstone National Park, according to North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department.
A biologist who conducted a necropsy on the male wolverine said the animal was about 8 or 9 years old and healthy when it was killed.
The closest population of wolverines is in the mountains of neighboring Montana and the forests of northern Canada. Male wolverines are known to travel great distances in search of habitat, food or other wolverines.
“There is no evidence to suggest a population of wolverines in North Dakota,” furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker told the Tribune.
Researchers wondered what had happened to the wolverine until they discovered the animal was shot and killed by the rancher in McKenzie County, North Dakota — about 700 miles from where it was last spotted.
“This guy definitely took the scenic route,” said Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the Game and Fish Department.
The wolverine, the largest member of the weasel family, was the last seen in the state in the mid-1800s, when farmers, trappers and ranchers killed or drove out every single one in North Dakota.
State law permits landowners to kill any wild fur-bearing animal — except bears — to protect poultry, domestic animals or crops. The rancher who shot the animal said he spotted the wolverine near his livestock, so he killed it.
The incident sparked a debate at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the wolverine for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and a federal judge recently vacated the agency’s decision not to list the animal as threatened.
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