Wolverine Photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park

The wolverine is a fast-moving wanderer. Thinkquest photo.

A wolverine has turned up in northern Colorado and was recently photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s been a very long time since a wolverine has prowled this terrain.

It can create quite a stir when species that were regionally extirpated long ago are once again seen in their former haunts, especially when they show up without benefit of human assistance. Such was the case, for example, when a lynx was photographed in Yellowstone National Park in November 2007..

We’d like to think that our national parks could once again have their full complement of native species, so there’s an extra measure of satisfaction when a species shows up of its own accord in one of these special places. These events not only provide tangible evidence that we are doing a good job of habitat preservation in our national parks, but also serve as touchstones of progress along the way to the restoration of “whole ecosystems.”

Now a wolverine has been photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park, a place where no wolverine has been seen – at least not for certain –since the park was established in 1915. Thanks to this verified sighting, 2009 will now go down in the books as the year that wolverines returned to northern Colorado and to Rocky Mountain National Park. Well, at least one wolverine that we know of.

Where this particular wolverine came from is not a mystery. Earlier this year it was radio-collared for research purposes (the Greater Yellowstone Wolverine Program) in the Yellowstone ecosystem way up in northwestern Wyoming. An adult wolverine like this one would be a compact, muscular animal weighing about 30 to 40 pounds and stretching to about three or four feet in length, tail and all.

This wolverine managed to travel around 500 miles into northern Colorado over a period of several months. Wolverines are fast-moving, notorious wanderers, but they are also reclusive and don’t like to be around people. Even by wolverine standards, this particular journey, which involved crossing Interstate 80 and dealing with numerous other hazards, was an amazing feat.

One of the people who saw the wolverine in the park was a wildlife photographer who managed to get a good picture of it – radio collar and all -- at a place above the treeline not far from the park’s Trail Ridge Road. Hard evidence like this is rare, and wildlife biologists are delighted to have it.

Where this wandering wolverine might turn up next remains anybody’s guess. An even better question is whether there are other wolverines in northern Colorado, and when a breeding population might be established. There’ve been no breeding populations of wolverines anywhere in California, Utah, or the southern Rockies for nearly 80 years.


My brother and I were fishing at Estes Lake and we saw what looked like this one.I was pretty sure it was a wolverine.This was last year,'08 in Aug.

I take it that you didn't get the chance for a photograph, J. How close were you to the animal? Did you happen to notice whether it was wearing a radio collar? This particular wolverine was in Yellowstone just a few months ago.

I was about fifteen feet from it.We were fishing the shore in the park by the outlet towards town.We didn't notice a radio collar and I didn't think to use my phones camera.It went into a bush and then reappeared about a half hour later.It was headed across the picnic area towards the road.I thought it might have been a badger but when I got home I looked it up and was convinced it was a wolverine.So interesting to come across this article.

Here is a link to the website of the photographer who got the shot of the wolverine in RMNP - http://www.ray-rafiti-photography.com/-/ray-rafiti-photography/gallery.asp?cat=120422&pID=1&row=15

Well that looks like the critter I saw.We had the dog chained to the trucks bumper and she went nuts.We couldn't figure out why till a paserby pointed towards it.I'm from MA and have never seen one up close but will testify that's what I saw.The second time when it left the bush leaving it postured like a Komdo Dragon.That was because the dog was on alert.So I can say it was most likely a wolverine.I've been coast to coast and seen a lot of critters but never one like this one.So to see this article made want to post this commentary.I beleive it was off the RT 36 side.We were coming from Lafayette.

Thanks for the link to the photos, Aaron. Those are great shots, particularly in light of the elusiveness of wolverines.

Thanks for this encouraging report, Bob! A wolverine was also recently photographed near Mt. Adams, far south of their supposed range in the Cascades: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009390936_skunkbear27m.html

I'm impressed by the photographic evidence that remote camera picked up in the Cascades. Quite a menagerie! The yellow lab was almost as surprising as the wolverine.

I own a home at the West entrance of RMNP (Grand Lake area) surrounded by the park. My neighbor Ken Bruton who is a full time resident and licensed big game outfitter, told me he saw a wolverine several years ago as he was taking guests on a hunting trip. He said he was in the Never Summer Range somewhere around Bowen Lake. The area is a designated primative area accessable by foot or horseback only.

Allan, I always respect sightings made by experienced individuals like your neighbor, even when there are no photographs or other hard evidence. These and other sightings strongly imply that more than one wolverine may be moving though the park. As to whether any are remaining in the area, well, I guess that remains to be proven.

I saw this animal on a hillside, just south of the mouth of the Colorado on Lake Granby. This was on Sunday 6/6/10, about 10AM. I was ghosting along in almost no wind in my 17 foot sailboat so was making no noise. He/she/it was very aware of me, and moved up the hillside rapidly, in a gait like no other animal I know. I speculated it was a wolverine, though wasn't sure of the color. I knew it was definitely not a marmot...much too large. It also was clearly not a badger because of size, gait, coloring, head shape, etc. It was a highlight of my four days on the water, and of this part of life. A fortunate sighting for me. No photos; by binocular.

I saw an animal that looks like this when hiking up Flattop Mountain on July 3, 2010 in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was on the hillside up above the treeline, sheltering in some rocks. I wasn't able to get a picture.

We saw a wolverine yesterday in Estes Park. We were driving along riverside past Turquoise Trail (a gravel road) and out of the corner of my eye saw what I thought could be a bear cub. Then looking at it as we came to a stop I started to think it was a dog, but it's legs were too stocky and face too small. It had a really shaggy dark brown coat and kind of froze along the side of the road in the weeds. I decided to call it a badger at the time because of the face but the coat color didn't seem right and it was a little bigger than I thought badgers should be. It's cool to know it was a wolverine!

Came across a wolverine today by the gate of Moraine park campground. Was walking up to the bathrooms and startled it when I came around from the side of the building (not more than 7ft away). It didn't run but just turned and went off the other direction which gave me a good amount of time to get a good look at it. Wish I had taken a pic with my phone but didn't think much of it until I spoke to a ranger and he said it sounded just like a wolverine. I knew it was not a badger and no doubt what i saw after checking pictures and video online. I did not notice a collar.

My wife and I saw a wolverine today in Rocky Mountain National Park, about 1 mile up the Trail Ridge Road from the Estes Park national park entrance. I was able to snap a picture in the rain and low light. Our best guess is this an immature wolverine. There were two of them walking along the highway, looking rather wet and confused. Luckily they safely crossed the road. We gave a copy of the photo to a park ranger at the visitor's station. The ranger seemed to very interested in the sighting. I can post a picture to you, but I'm not sure how to post the photo. Let me know if you would like me to email it to you, or let me know how to post it.

My wife and I saw two wolverines today in RMNP, less than 1 mile up the Trail Ridge Road from the Estes Park entrance. I snapped a photo of one of them in the rain. http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/_3F0iM8O4Jbw52Rea_wW3q2gCLGA5G89AO4IfvLkMo8?feat=directlink
Based on their size, we are guessing they are immature wolverines. They were wet and confused while trying to cross the road. Luckily they made it across. We gave a copy of the photo to a ranger at the vistor center, and he seemed to be quite excited about the sighting.

My son and I met a wolverine as we descended Bowen Gulch Trail in the Never Summer Wilderness just west of RMNP on Sunday, Aug 1, 2010. We didn't see a collar, but we didn't get a good head-on look because he was carrying a small animal in his mouth. When he saw us, he spun around and went quickly round a bend down the trail ahead of us. We weren't fast enough with the camera. We spend quite a bit of time in RMNP as we live nearby, so we're pretty familiar with the common animals. This wasn't anything we'd seen before. After studying a few pictures on the web when we got home, we came across this wolverine picture and agreed "that's it, no doubt."

Some friends and I came across one early morning July 13, 2010 at 13,000 feet while climbing Mt. Elbert, got a good look but it was too fast for the cameras. The tail and facial contrasts are a dead giveaway though.

Some friends and I had one of these cross our trail early moring on July 13, 2010 at 13,000 feet while climbing Mt. Elbert. It was too fast for the cameras, but the facial features, fur color contrasts and the tail are a dead giveaway.

My wife and I were hiking up to Boulder Field for an overnight trip to climb Longs Peak. When we were coming up to Granite Pass I remembered telling my wife that someone's dog was taking a shit at the top. I notice the somewhat hunched back with a flopping tail. After thinking about it, it really looked like a gaint marmot that I started calling the "mardog." After returning home and looking up pictures on the wolverine I quickly realized what it was that I actually saw. This wolverine didn't see us and walked into a rock cave on the eastern side of the East Longs Peak trail junction. This wolverine was easily 4 feet long and a good 2-2.5 feet tall.