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Nature | Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom

Watch Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 8pm on WMHT TV.

Nature takes viewers deep into the secretive world of wolverines – the largest and least known members of the weasel family.  Legend paints them as solitary, bloodthirsty killers that roam the frozen north, taking down prey as large as a moose, and crushing bones to powder with their powerful jaws.  Is there any truth behind the legend?  A new image of the wolverines is just beginning to emerge, one that is far more complex than their reputation suggests.  The little demons may be the gluttonous gluttons that their scientific name (Gulo gulo) implies, but they are also much more family-oriented than anyone would have guessed. Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom follows teams of intrepid researchers as they attempt to find and study these remarkably independent, resourceful, and elusive animals in the wild; and takes viewers to meet one man whose work with wolverines has been completely unique.

Featured wolverine experts and enthusiasts include biologist Audrey Magoun of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; scientists Jeff Copeland and Rick Yates of the Glacier Wolverine Project; biologist and author Doug Chadwick; and wildlife filmmaker and educator Steve Kroschel.  After the broadcast, the program will be available for viewing at Nature Online www.pbs.org/nature

“These are animals with a real mystique, because studying them in the wild has proven to be so difficult.  But the more we learn about wolverines, the more respect we have for what they do,” says Fred Kaufman, Series Executive Producer.  “They weigh only about 30 pounds, but they’re built for survival under the toughest conditions.  They can race through blizzards and fend off grizzlies.”

Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom follows the field studies of researchers who blend cutting-edge science with good old-fashioned detective work to unlock the secrets of these little dynamos.  Magoun, who has studied wolverines for over three decades, knows about as much about wolverines as anyone alive.  But even she has only actually observed them in the wild about four times.  She has, however, captured their images using a system of remote cameras set in one section of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.  She has discovered that wolverines have chest patterns as unique as fingerprints, and is assembling a portrait of the wolverines in her area.

Like Magoun, Copeland and Yates face the same challenge of studying an animal they rarely if ever see.  In Glacier National Park where winter lasts nine months out of the year, they rely on GPS and radiotelemetry of tagged wolverines, tracking them from a distance, and getting to know them from their DNA.  Using DNA samples, the Glacier team has been able to piece together surprising information about wolverine family dynamics, and especially about wolverine dads, who play a significant role in raising kits, passing along important lessons on what it means to grow up wolverine.

The notion of “father knows best” in the wolverine world couldn’t be more applicable than in the case of Steve Kroschel, who has spent 25 years with wolverines, and has even shared his home with them.  One of the few men in the world to raise wolverines in captivity, Kroschel is raising two orphans he has cared for since their birth.  His unique relationship with Jasper and Banff allows viewers a rare up close and personal look at these otherwise mysterious creatures.

It seems that all those who study wolverines become completely captivated by them, full of admiration and respect for these totally outrageous and independent creatures.  Author, wolverine enthusiast and study participant, Doug Chadwick, puts it this way:  “Like most of the guys on the project, what I really want to do is just be a wolverine.  I want to go where I want to go, do what I want to do, bite who I want to bite, and climb what I want to climb.”

Wolverine Video: The Phantom

Wolverine Video: The Phantom

The wolverine dominates the harsh Alaskan wilderness.

Wolverine Photo Gallery

Wolverine Photo Gallery

See photos of this elusive animal.

Wolverine Facts

Wolverine Facts

Stats and additional information on the wolverine

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PBS Nature News

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