Where would you go to track down the largest weasel known to man, the wolverine? Don’t forget to take into consideration its sharp teeth and claws, its fierce hunting abilities, and its propensity for remote environments.
National Geographic grantee Gregg Trenish and his team decided to travel to a vast region in northern Mongolia know as the Darhad, to learn as much as possible about the powerfully built, and well-adapted for winter, wolverine. Specifically, they are gathering DNA evidence to analyze so that, in the end, a conservation plan can be created for these creatures. The challenges involved in tracking this elusive creature include: driving across a frozen river, skiing in snow that has the consistency of sugar, carrying your food, and ensuring you have the correct paperwork for border crossings.
The last few days, the team reports, they have been tremendously successful at locating scat and hairs from the wolverine. As team member Jim Harris says, “It’s really exciting to find that much wolverine evidence…We’ve seen tracks everyday and found wolverine scat everyday. It’s beyond anyone’s expectations.”
Some biologists, prior to this excursion, felt that this region, when compared to similar environments in North America, did not contain as many wild creatures. But, as expedition member and environmental scientist Rebecca Watters observes, “…an hour into our first day tracking we are seeing a lot of signs of other wildlife. Gregg found some lynx track, and we’re seeing lots of wolf [tracks], fox [tracks], and tons of hair. We also saw a lot of ptarmigan (the actual birds, not the tracks). Found couple of kill sites, where …musk deer had been killed and dragged away.”
In addition the successful animal interactions, the team also has been experiencing the hospitality and wildlife knowledge of the nomadic people of the Darhad. “When we were coming up Jigleg Pass, we stopped and had tea with a herder,” Watters says, “He told me he had seen wolverine tracks up Jigleg Pass during the winter and here’s the wolverine! So, this validates to me that Mongolians really, really know their wildlife well, and there’s a lot we can learn from asking them.”