Ryan Campbell was riding on a gondola at Mammoth Mountain in California when he spotted something unusual out the window: a wolverine running up a ski jump. Once Campbell had a chance to capture the wolverine on camera, the animal darted into nearby trees for cover as a skier approached. 

Wolverines were wiped out of California during westward expansion. It was thought that the last wolverine in California died in 1922. But, Campbell’s sighting is an exciting sign and the second wolverine to be spotted in the state in 100 years. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) confirmed that there have been multiple sightings of likely the same wolverine in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this spring. Two sightings were recorded in the Inyo National Forest and a third sighting occurred in Yosemite National Park. 

“Wolverines can travel great distances, making it likely that the recent sightings are all of the same animal,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Daniel Gammons. “Because only two wolverines have been confirmed in California during the last 100 years, these latest detections are exciting.”

Images and videos of the wolverine were sent to CDFW for analysis. Wildlife experts and scientists confirmed that the images were indeed a wolverine because of its size, body proportion, coloration, and movement patterns. After seeing Campbell’s image, Chris Stermer, a CDFW senior environmental scientist, told SF Gate that he was “ 99.9 percent certain”  that it was a wolverine in the photo.

The CDFW plans to collect genetic samples from the wolverine through hair, scat, and saliva samples found at feeding sites. These genetic samples may help determine where the wolverine came from. The last wolverine documented in California was an individual that was repeatedly seen in the Golden State from 2008 to 2018. At the time, CDFW determined from genetic samples that the wolverine — dubbed “Buddy” — likely traveled 600 miles from the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho to the Tahoe National Forest. CDFW officials believe that the new images are likely of a different wolverine given that the species’ lifespan is typically 12 to 13 years.

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Officials say that Wolverines resemble small bears and are widely distributed in Canada and Alaska with smaller populations in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains. They’re known to be especially fierce predators capable of taking down prey multiple times their size.