I grew up in the 1970`s in South London happily surrounded by drawing pads, animal books and cricket bats. Although far away from the wolverines that were hustling for their lives out in the northern wilderness my mind was often with them. Since childhood I have been obsessed with wolverines and imaged them loping through the woodlands near my home. I searched through many old London book shops and visited museum libraries looking for anything I could lay my hands on about this animal. Back then wolverine field studies were very scarce and factual literature was like gold dust….not so for wolverine folklore! . Almost every article I read up inevitably attached words like evil, blood thirsty and cruel to the wolverines character. This “Savage devil beast” was the most diabolical animal on the planet. Of course this is all complete and utter nonsense. Wolverine are no more demonic than a mallard duck.
During my teenage years the few pioneering biologists who studied wild wolverines were my idols. Names such as Ballard, Banci ,Bjarvall, Gardiner, Hash, Hornocker, Magoun, Whitman and earlier Murie and Haglund. Field research projects continued to be sporadic in the following decades due to the wolverines inhospitable terrain and naturally low population density resulting in immense logistical expense in collecting limited data. Consequently wolverine, as a species, are poorly studied. However over the past twenty years or so a steady flow of new and interesting projects have really helped to increase our understanding of wolverine biology and populations that can only be a good thing for future wolverine conservation.
In 1990 I finally saw my first living wolverine. I visited Skansen Zoo Park in Stockholm, Sweden and ran at full speed up to the wolverine enclosure! . There was a big male laying fast asleep in a tight ball of brownish fur. I just could `nt believe I was looking at a real wolverine not a photograph. I spent every day there for two weeks and the zoo staff were kind enough to let me enter the wolverine enclosure to hand feed them. I have returned to Scandinavia many times visiting various zoo`s where a breeding program has been established to diversify the gene pool for the captive European wolverine (Gulo g. gulo) stock.
My ambition in life was to observe wolverine living as they should be….. in the wild. That was never going to be easy. People who live their whole lives in wolverine country often report of never seeing one alive. I had no University education and this reduced my chances to get direct access into wildlife field research. So I started to write a ton of letters to wildlife Societies, study projects and individual biologist`s to try to get involved in volunteer field work in arctic regions. I was planning to join a Canadian musk ox study when a letter arrived from Furbearer biologist Howard Golden from the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage, Alaska. He was conducting a long term study on wild wolverines in the Talkeetna mountain range of South Central Alaska and enquired if I would be interested in helping on his project starting that winter . I am not sure how my times I ran around my garden but it was a lot. The wolverine God had really smiled down at me.
Over a two year period I spent a total of 10 months living in the rugged beauty of Alaska. The Talkeetna mountains are completely breath taking and support a healthy wildlife ecosystem. The field work enabled me to have many privileged opportunities to visually observe wild wolverines involving a range of behaviours and to track them in winter. Most sightings involved lone wolverines but occasionally I observed pairs and on one occasion three wolverines. I witnessed a determined but eventually unsuccessful wolverine hunting Dall sheep lambs and observed wolverine interacting with golden eagle , raven, moose, caribou, red fox and ptarmigan. Aerial tracking revealed the diagonal and distinctive tracks left by a cruising wolverine that occasionally headed straight up and over high steep mountain peaks. It appeared that nothing that nature can throw in their way stops them. Even fast flowing rivers during the spring melt are no barriers. They sleep outside in freezing rain, are active all year in the brutal sub arctic winters and have relentless endurance. Wolverines also seem to enjoy life when there bellies are full. They can be playful even on their own. They would slide on their backs down steep snow slopes and torpedo into the deep drifts then run up and do it again and chase feathers blowing in the wind. During an aerial survey a pair of wolverines were seen travelling together. The leading animal ran fast ahead and climbed up a black spruce tree. On the approach of it`s companion it launched out of the tree onto the back of the other wolverine and the two rolled around spraying snow everywhere. It was pure play.
In between the wolverine field research I was also involved on an Alaskan feature film where I was “Wolverine helper”. It was my privileged job to care for a hand reared adult wolverine and two energetic young kits.I spent all my time with them. The young wolverines even followed me on walking trips out in the forest and seemed to enjoy biting and climbing on everything they could grab hold of including my arms and legs. A rather bizarre situation occurred that made both adult and kits descend into a sort of relaxed hypnotic trance. I had to time it right but when I put my hand into the wolverines open mouth and started to massage their gums they just flopped on their sides, eyes half closed and did not move again until I stopped!! While in Alaska I continued with my wildlife artwork and sold originals and prints to various Alaskan Galleries and illustrated wolverine for scientific report papers for the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game.
In September 2003 I travelled to the remote Taiga forests of North Eastern Finland. I had use of a small observation hide overlooking a marsh and small lake that was flanked by high granite outcrops.There was room only for my sleeping bag and camera. I waited alone over many evenings praying to catch even a glimpse of a wolverine`s anal gland. Ravens and Siberian Jays were my only companions. After a long cramped vigil suddenly out of an opening in the forest loped an adult female wolverine followed by two very large juveniles. I could hardly breath. A large dark adult male also arrived that night and to my amazement the wolverine`s remained in the area for 4 days. I observed wolverine social interactions and heard vocalisations between mother and kits that astounded me. One bright moonlit night the adult male dug up a large bone from the marsh and carried it right underneath to the floorboards of my hide feeding just inches from my backside. In the quiet, still night air the raw, deep rasping snarls made by the feeding wolverine mixed with sharp snap of splintering bone is a sound that will never leave me.
In 2005 I went to the world`s first International Symposium on Wolverine Research, Biology and Management. The event took place in Jokkmokk, northern Sweden. The conference was a great success and I was really pleased to meet so many wolverine researchers who I had long admired . My interest in wolverines has given me many good Gulo friends some of whom I have still yet to meet in person. I have recently been wildlife film researching on behalf of GULO Film Productions who made an award winning documentary on wild wolverines in Finland called “ Hyena of the North” in 2006.
I am working on new wolverine paintings on a regular basis and I will include these to the Gallery page so please come back again to look out for my next Gulo art piece.
Thanks for visiting my Wolverine Art website. Please contact me with any wolverine art inquiries.
Gulo gulo regards Jeff