Species Profile

Wolverine Western population

Scientific Name: Gulo gulo
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2014
Last COSEWIC Designation: Non-active
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.


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Related Species

Species COSEWIC
Status
SARA
Status
Wolverine Special Concern No Status

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Other Protection or Status | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Wolverine

Wolverine Photo 1

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Description

The Wolverine is compact, powerful, and resembles a small bear with a long bushy tail. It has a large broad head with strong jaws. Its legs are short with large feet. An adult male measures about 1 m from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, and weighs between 12 and 16 kg; the female is usually smaller than the male. At birth, the Wolverine's coat is cream coloured with darker legs and a masked face. Adults have long, thick, glossy dark brown fur that is paler on the head, and two yellowish stripes which start at the shoulders and meet at the rump. Some individuals have a white patch on the neck and chest.

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Distribution and Population

The Wolverine is a holarctic species that is distributed across North America and Eurasia. In Canada, there are two separate populations: the Eastern population, which is listed as endangered but may be extirpated, is limited to Quebec and Labrador; and the Western population, which is sparsely distributed across the Boreal, Arctic, Northern Mountain, Southern Mountain, and Pacific ecological regions. Estimates reported in 2003 put the total Western population of the Wolverine in Canada between 15,000 and 19,000 individuals. In the Yukon, populations are healthy and stable in all regions. In the Northwest Territories, densities vary with location; they are highest in the southwest and lowest on the Arctic Islands and on the mainland east of the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. In Nunavut, densities are moderate in the west and low on the Arctic Islands and in the east. Populations are believed to be stable over much of British Columbia, but are declining in the southern mountains. A distinct subspecies may no longer be extant on Vancouver Island, where Wolverines have not been seen since 1992; their decline may be related to that of the Endangered Vancouver Island Marmot, a potential summer food. In Alberta, Wolverines are most abundant in the west, but appear to be declining throughout the province. In Saskatchewan, they are common in the north, but are rare and possibly declining in the southern boreal forest. In Manitoba, the highest densities are in the northeast and northwest, while numbers in the north central part of the province are unknown. Wolverines are found in small numbers in northwestern Ontario; they may have increased recently in some areas, but are known to have disappeared from others. Overall numbers for Ontario indicate a decline. Although records exist for their occurrence in the Prairie and Great Lakes Plains ecological areas, Wolverine populations may never have been viable in these regions.

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Habitat

The Wolverine needs vast undisturbed areas to maintain viable populations because it has a low reproductive rate, low population density, and large home range. It inhabits a variety of treed and treeless areas at all elevations including the northern forested wilderness, the alpine tundra of the western mountains, and the arctic tundra. The Wolverine is most abundant where large ungulates are common.

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Biology

The Wolverine has long held a place in folklore as a beast of great ferocity, cunning, and extraordinary strength. First Nations mythology describes the Wolverine as a trickster-hero, and a link to the spirit world. The Wolverine occurs in such low numbers across most of its remote habitat, and is so mobile, that it is extremely difficult to study. Wolverines are nonmigratory and do not hibernate in the winter. They are active both day and night, and often alternate three to four hour periods of activity and sleep. They can travel for long distances, climb trees, and swim. Their broad feet and muscular limbs allow them to chase down their prey — even on soft snow. They occupy large home ranges that vary from 50 to 400 km2 for females, and 230 to 1580 km2 for males. There is overlap between home ranges, and a certain portion of the population is transient at any given time. Transients are typically yearlings, and these dispersing individuals may travel more than 200 km. Wolverines are omnivorous, consuming a wide variety of scavenged or fresh food items ranging from large ungulates such as moose, caribou, and mountain goats, to smaller animals such as beavers, porcupines, ground squirrels, and fish, to roots and berries. In turn, the Wolverine is preyed upon by bears, wolves, cougars, Golden Eagles, and other Wolverines. Wolverines are sexually mature at two to three years of age. Between April and September, the animals come together in pairs to breed. Pairs last only for a few days, and both males and females may remate several times with other individuals. The fertilised egg does not start to develop until it is implanted many months later. This delayed implantation accomidates mating in the summer when the females are more sedentary, while ensuring that the young are born at the optimal time of year for their survival. The females build dens, either in rocky slopes, deadfall, or snow tunnels, in which they give birth to young between late March and mid-April. Litters of two or three young are common, but females do not bear young every year. The young typically nurse for 8 to 10 weeks, separate from the mother in the autumn, and attain adult size after about seven months. The low reproduction rate of the Wolverine means that the population is not able to recover quickly after population declines.

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With the extensive human settlement in its range that began in the mid-19th century, the Wolverine has undergone range contractions and population reductions. Wolf control programs that were in effect from the 1950s and into the 1990s contributed to this species’ decline. The Wolverine’s habitat, particularly in the southern part of its range, is subject to loss, degradation, and fragmentation from oil, gas, and mineral exploration and extraction, forestry, roads, agriculture, and urban development. Although Wolverines are known to use snowmobile trails and scavenge from traps, backcountry recreation can lead to habitat alienation for these secretive animals. Increased access of motorized vehicles into remote areas may also increase harvest pressure on the Wolverine and on its ungulate prey, particularly the Threatened Southern Mountain population of Woodland Caribou. In the arctic tundra, developments frequently attract Wolverines, which are then at risk of being killed as nuisance animals. As an economically valuable furbearer, the Wolverine is subject to trapping and has been over-harvested in some areas.

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Other Protection or Status

The Wolverine is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

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Recovery Team

Ontario Wolverine Recovery Team

  • Neil Dawson - Chair/Contact - Government of Ontario
    Phone: 807-939-3120  Send Email
  • Hilary Gignac - Chair/Contact - Government of Ontario
    Phone: 807-475-1276  Fax: 807-473-3023  Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

6 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Wolverine Gulo gulo in Canada (2015)

    Wolverines are a stocky, medium-sized carnivore and the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family. They have long, glossy coarse fur, which varies from brown to black, often with a pale facial mask and stripes running laterally from the shoulders, crossing just above the tail. The skull structure is robust, allowing it to crush and consume bones and frozen carcasses. Adult males weigh 13 to 18 kg and adult females weigh 7.5 to 12.5 kg.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Wolverine (2003)

    Canadian range considered as one population in April 1982 and designated Special Concern. Split into two populations in April 1989 (Western population and Eastern population). Eastern population was designated Endangered in April 1989 and confirmed in May 2003. Last assessment was based on an update status report. Western population was designated Special Concern in April 1989 and confirmed in May 2003. Last assessment was based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Wolverine (2004)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.