A biologist has confirmed the sighting of a real Michigan wolverine, about 200 years after the species was last seen in the state that uses the small but ferocious animal as its unofficial nickname.
Coyote hunters spotted a wolverine near Ubly, about 90 miles north of Detroit. Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Arnie Karr saw the forest predator Tuesday and snapped pictures of the animal as it ran out of the woods and across a field.
The wolverine, a member of the weasel family that grows to about 25 pounds but is ferocious enough to fight off bears and wolves, once ranged across the northern and western United States. It is now limited mostly to northern Canada, Idaho and Alaska, with sightings in a few other states, but its last confirmed sightings in Michigan were by fur traders in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
The appearance is "up there with having a caribou or a polar bear turn up," Department of Natural Resources spokesman Brad Wurfel said Wednesday. "It's unprecedented."
How the scrappy animal returned and even whether it ever really left are mysteries in the state, where the best-known Wolverines are athletes at the University of Michigan.
Raymond Rustem, supervisor of the natural heritage unit in the department's wildlife division, said the wolverine could have traveled to the state, been released or escaped from captivity.
"What it means, who knows?" Rustem said. "When you take a look at the wolverine, there's always been this debate about whether wolverines ever were a part of Michigan's recent past. Some evidence shows that, some says no."
The wolverine was on Michigan's endangered species list until the late 1990s, when it was removed because it wasn't expected to return, Rustem said. Conservationists asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put the animal on its endangered list in 2000, but the agency in October declined to study whether the species should be added.