Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom

Wolverines are among the most elusive creatures on the planet. They seek out the toughest terrain – the most rugged, remote and fiercely raw – and they’ve always been scarce to begin with. So they’re hard to find. They weigh only about 30 pounds, but they have a ton of attitude and a reputation to match. They eat everything, dead or alive, warm or frozen, and will climb anything, even mountains. It’s impossible for humans to keep up with them. They’re built to travel long distances with minimum effort across deep snow or up the sides of sheer cliffs. They roam an enormous territory of about 500 square miles – a home turf larger than an average grizzly bear’s. And they share it only with their immediate family. It’s “no trespassing” for everybody else.

Few researchers have observed wolverines in the wild, though some have tried, for years on end. Most must settle for capturing their images on remote cameras, tracking them from a distance, and getting to know them from their DNA. Those that study them become completely captivated by them, full of admiration and respect for these totally outrageous and independent creatures. Author and wolverine enthusiast, 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.”

Yet there is one man whose experience with wolverines has been completely different. Wildlife filmmaker Steve Kroschel has spent 25 years with wolverines, and has even shared his home with them. Caring for injured and orphaned animals on a sixty-acre refuge in Alaska, he is one of the few men in the world to raise wolverines in captivity. The two orphans he has cared for since their birth have become his lifelong responsibility – and they are a handful! But he remains their committed and devoted advocate, a more than willing substitute parent to these remarkable animals he has come to love.

  • Y2Kade

    I’m very excited about this upcoming episode.

  • Mike

    Interesting! I hope that everyone had a great weekend!

  • Bob & Maggie

    We’re really looking forward to this episode. One of the speakers in the trailer says, “what Wolverines can do is jsut beyond human.” That’s funny, and really silly!

  • Jake

    This article makes me even PROUDER to me a University of Michigan Wolverine! We “go where [we] want to go, do what [we] want to do, bite who [we] want to bite, and climb what [we] want to climb.” Go Blue!!

  • Arthur

    The earth needs more people the love this misunderstood animal.Good job PBS.

  • mark from MI

    what an animal!!!!,and ok ,GO BLUE!

  • bryan

    as a michigan resident, its nice to see some footage and time in the spot light for my state on nature. Hope to see more in the future.

  • Ana

    Can’t wait. I’ve been telling my students about the program because we study Michigan. The story of the last known wolverine in Michigan was in our local papers and I felt a loss. I’m glad that Jeff Ford’s wolverine will be remembered.

  • matt in WA

    As a kid my older brother and I spotted what I latter learned was a wolverine. We were near 10,000 feet in an extremely remote part of CA. It was truly a phantom glimpse and one that still haunts me some 30 years later. The griz has long been extinc in CA, sad as it’s a fundamental part of CA’s iconography. However, the wily wolverine lives on, a true testament to perseverence and the notion that image ISN’T everything.

  • sally (Maine)

    Add the book, “The Wolverine Way” to the PBS viewing. It’s new, by Doug Chadwick, a cliff-hanger for the survival of its Wolverine heroes (and their dedicated researchers).

  • Ole DW

    Was wondering how long it’d be before some knothead from Michigan weighed in to measure their own self-worth because of a mascot–and look, one beat me to it!

  • Nico

    I agree with Arthur. And, this animal needs to be protected…despite claims of how elusive it is.

  • Pam

    To Bob and Maggie, “What Wolverines can do is just beyond human”……is referring to the animals endurance, cunningness and audacious behavior. None of which are, “funny or silly.”

  • Regina

    As a ferret owner, I’m always excited to see programming on my little guys’ other mustelid relatives! Looking forward to the show!

  • Karen S.

    This looks like it will be fascinating. Thank you PBS!

  • Donna M.

    FABULOUS SHOW! Thank-you. Especailly loved the segment with Steve and the 2 orphans. I used to live in Alaska and loved the beauti you portrayed with the photogrraphy. I could live in that cabin right now.

  • rogerw

    Feeling edgy as I watched the guy “play” with the most ferocious animal!! Yikes. What a great show!

  • Suzanne

    The program is over and I feel enriched by the experience you have provided me through your showing of the Wolverine. Such a cleaver and enchanting animal. I could have spent hours watching this animal and the people who dedicate their lives to discovering the secrets of this incredible animal. Thank you for showing this and all the nature series. PBS is worth its weight in gold! Again, thank you.

  • Wheaty

    “M” Go Blue! Awsome show! So misunderstood! So powerful! So elusive! So “M” Go blue!!!

  • Dean Mesnard

    Spotted a wolverine 3 years ago in Colorado, above 13,500′. I took a picture. Watched it for about 15 minutes. Who do I contact , who may be interested ? I know that it was a very rare sighting.

  • KB

    I wish the National Geographic “Great Migrations” series wasn’t up against “Nature.”

  • Caitlin

    Kudos, PBS, for bringing yet another fascinating part of our world into my home. Your ‘Nature’ episode tonight on wolverines was superb! Truly amazing creatures, and to those that dedicate their life to learning more about them: ‘You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din!’

  • Tom M

    It is great to see my Cousin Steve with his wonderful wolverines in Alaska. He introduced me to them when he still lived in Minnesota. I still remember One Paw–handling him was like holding a lit stick of dynamite. I may still have his teeth marks in the back of my neck when One Paw jumped me out of a tree. These guys were really rough!

  • Crystal in MI

    So happy to see a new program featuring the Wolverine. They’ve been one of my favorite animals since I was a teenager. Literature and programming on them has been sparse.

    An update for those reading. The female wolverine in Michigan was found dead on March 13th, 2010. :-( At least the autopsy came back that she died of natural causes (and was aprox. nine years old.)

  • Ashleigh in MO

    I loved all of it. I didnt know that much about wolverines, and I had to go research more right after!
    It makes me want to get one or two and raise them from a baby, like that guy does. I have always loved the idea of teaching people about animals that are less known about.
    Does anyone know where I could go to look into getting one?

  • Adrianne Mackey

    I was lucky enough to see a Wolverine in Tahoe National Forest this summer. It was almost 6 PM and he was walking across the highway. I saw him from the back.I thought it was a bear cub, except I had never seen one that color, and then I saw the tail and suspected it was a Wolverine. I went back to my cabin and looked him up online, and sure enough, that’s who it was. I was so lucky; he was so beautiful.
    From your program, I learned Wolverines were social or could be raised in captivity, or each had different neck markings. They have different color patterns too. I was so pleased Steve is raising the two orphans and other wild Alaskan animals.

  • John Polhamus

    When I saw the first trailer for this episode I knew I had to watch it, and sure enough, my eyes were moist from start to finish! What treasures the Wolverines are! Thank you all for bringing their beauty, and that of those who care for them and promote their cause, before the public. As a Californian I am strangely giddy with unjustified pride that a wolverine has deigned to be sighted in Tahoe National Park, even if it turns out to be on the Nevada side!

  • TheBigA

    I happened to be flipping through the channels and found this program by mistake! It was very enlightening, I can’t say I had ever thought a thing about such an animal in my life! I was so excited about what I was learning I called my ex husband and filled him in on the entire story! How interesting!

  • brigitte blais

    just saw wolverine, wow, what a fighter. anything else by mr kroschel ?

  • Iris Selway

    Thanks for bringing this elusive, captivating animal into our homes last night. What a treat. It’s rare to see such enthusiasm across the board from the people interviewed in a film, but the passion of all the researchers in last night’s show was so strong – and infectious.

    I love the footage of the wolverine bounding about in the snow, and the overheads of Alaska were stunning.

    Thanks for presenting this kind of quality programming.

  • Joan E. Morford

    I watched the program and loved it. Kudos to the hardy folks who spend their time searching for these elusive animals. No one will believe this but – I am a 65 year old Grandma and when I was a girl in northern rural Missouri I was riding my horse down a seldom used rural road and a wolverine went across the road in front of us. It crossed the road and climbed up into a pine tree in front of an abandoned house. I researched them at the time and found they weren’t supposed to be anywhere near that area. I have since heard that some old time trappers had reported some sightings around that time.

  • John Bay

    My objection to this episode is the same one I have to a lot of them – it is more about people (filmmakers, scientists, zookeepers) than it is about it is about its ostensible subject. The series should be entitled “People Who Have Something To Do With Nature”.

  • Will

    The Wolverine episode was just great! They are truly remarkable creatures. I think they are one of the most fascinating animals I have seen and prompted me to look into them further. I hope there will be a sequel to this episode. Great work PBS!

  • Jamie

    Wonderfful episode, great information, and the babies were adorable – kind of like hairy little coffee tables with a leg at each corner. (Not as cute as baby bats or platys, but still….)

  • Tom

    I just want to say,in 1975 I saw a Wolverine In Minnesota,I lived on a farm 100 miles West of the Twin Cities.I was 15 years old,a wolverine came out of a shed and growled at me and troted off slowly,scared me to death because I did not know what it was.But 10 years ago I was watching a show on Wolverines and then I knew what that animal was.But I’m not the only one that has seen a wolverine in Minnesota,a deer hunter I know was hunting by the Minnesota river near Faifax Mn,and he had one growl at him while he was in his deer stand,thank God he did not shoot.So,I’m just saying that I beleive there are more Wolverines in the lower 48 States than people think. P.S. I will never forget what I saw and I remember it like it just happened yesterday,very impressive of the confidents that animal had,he was not intimidated at all by my presents.

  • Saundra

    NORTHWESTERN WISCONSIN. One week ago I spotted a WOLVERINE in my neighbor’s front yard, standing on the lawn under a streetlight; I am one hundred percent certain of its identity and saw it clearly, markings and all. Ironically, a neighbor a quarter mile in the opposite direction called excitedly in the morning to report seeing just such an animal on the edge of his field along the treeline; he concurred that it resembled the photographs found on the internet. Ironically, one was spotted ten miles away by the very lucid and scientifically minded hunting companion of my husband; his friend came face to face with one while deer hunting in deep woods. Even more ironically, after my posting of your PBS program notice on my Facebook site, a good friend noted my facebook notation and shared that he, too, had seen just such an animal in the same area within the last few weeks; he had seen it twice on separate trips. So far the DNR has not responded to my reports. Usually the veracity of anything unusual reported is met with skepticism. A true shame, for we do have at least one WOLVERINE here now.

  • Zach

    It is most probable that the Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan sightings are nomads from the established Canadian population. It would be awesome if they did move back into the region and establish themselves though. I only wish that they would continue eastward and return to northern NY again (last one spotted in mid 1800’s). Plenty of northern forest habitat and snow between the Adirondack’s 6 million acres and the Tug Hill (Tug Hill=snowiest region east of the rockies) region to the west. It seems highly unlikely but moose have made it back on their own and are now quite well established.
    Awesome animal and awesome episode; one of my favorites.

  • Kelley

    Gulo gulo is an amazing animal that deserves our respect, admiration, and as caretakers of this planet, our protection. Fantastic show and if you want to learn more, visit the wolverine foundation website referenced by Nico.

  • JD

    Wolverines are in deed in Minnesota, in the south which is normally farm land. My brother spotted one at dusk coming out of his corn field–shocked his socks off so to speak. Why would there be such in animal in this flat prairie farm land??? Well it has to do with these big hog “palaces” that corporations are putting up all over and more are popping up each year. These operations are automated and are checked on by one person, the land owner, once a day who hauls out the dead animals and puts them in a flimsy shed to keep it out of sight until picked up weeks later. There are now coyotes, wolves, opossums, vultures and all kinds of carrion eating animals that we had never seen before. Farmers no longer leave their dogs out and are concerned about their live stock.

  • Jeff Repass

    I really enjoyed watching your wolverine program with my kids. I’ve always been intrigued by the wolverine and the honey badger. I was wondering what kind of remote cameras they were using in the forest to capture animals.

  • Kristen Bieger

    um……….I don’t know what to say.

  • xavi

    Thanks for this information, i really enjoyed watching wolverine whit my family.


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  • Eugene

    I had to turn off the show while watching the introduction. I’m not going to spend 53 minutes watching two TAME wolverines frolic in the snow, while I’m told how they’re “misunderstood creatures”. That is such a perversion of nature and reality. Nature enthusiasts seem to live for the opportunity to interfere with nature. I’ll stick with the old BBC shows on BIology/nature.



  • Lennie McDonald

    Awesome show on the wolverines. We both really liked it and especially seeing Steve Koechel and his Banff and Jasper. We met STeve in 2004 and really loved his place. His love of his wolverines showed through at the time. I did try to send him some pictures of his pine martin but was unable to.

    Good to know he and his son are still living with the critters. All the best to them.

    Again thanks for the show!

  • C Collins

    WOW! This was the best and most interesting NATURE I have ever watched and I have seen most of them. Great job! So exciting to learn about wolverines all elements of production were EXCELLENT! Thank you!

  • charles stewart

    love the show.i hope you do a show about another mammal similar to the wolverine.The badger would be an excellent choice to film and study. thanks and keep up the good work.where can i donate to p.b.s.

  • Tom Powers

    several years ago when the younger Bush was president he got two animals onto the protected wildlife program,, however in spite of many requests ,the wolverine was overlooked. At that time when the numbers were crunched the reason for excluding the wolverine was clouded by muddled thinking.The dept. of Fish and Game concluded that the animals were so elusive and occupied such a wild and varied habitat that they could not justify to appoint the wolverine to the endangered list.I think that perhaps the proponents of big oil were afraid that part of the protected habitat would later be found to hold oil and gas reserves and God knows if God knows anything that we cannot allow that.Money talks and wolverines walk .The greed rules the world over.T.P.titodo

  • Charles Hooks

    Really enjoyed watching this show will be getting it on blu-ray for my collection. Wanted to say thank you to all involved in producing, making , distributing and staring in this film. Was the first time I ever seen a wolverine before, thanks Charles.

  • Andrea Vaughan

    I just happened to catch this on pbs during a late night insomnia session and wow ! great job….many good facts and I learned a lot. However one thing in this that really struck home for me was the appearance of the glacier near the end of the special….I realise it was simmer there but wow…there was hardly any ice left …very heartbreaking

  • diana wilson

    I think what you are doing is amazing for these animals. I would love to go to Alaska just to meet you and tell you in person.

  • Ranger Dave

    After watching this episode, I have a few questions:
    1. What type of milk/formula was being fed to the orphaned kits?
    2. What is the natural life span of a wolverine?
    Great show.

  • fred condit

    Saw this show loved it.Please inform me of the day and time.One of our national treasures and cute

  • Sue Brown

    We attended a ranger program in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. The Ranger gave us this website. My husband and I totally enjoyed this video and appreciate the scientists and the volunteers that help us understand the wolverine.

    Great job,

  • Catherine H

    Watching the re-airing right now!! This is beautiful film –about a fascinating, wondrous and amazing creature. I can watch this one each time it’s on. The folks that raised the orphaned wolverine kits are just wonderful and dedicated people–THANK YOU . Want to show appreciation and respect to scientists and researchers too.

  • max

    program mentioned that at one time they were as far south a New Mexico. seems they were also in the panhandle of Texas where my father was born. some time around 1900 one tangled with my grandfathers large shepherd dog. he cut the dogs jugular but grandfather tied a shoestring around the vein and stopped the bleeding. the dog lived but one side of his head turned white. don’t know the whole story but i would imagine the wolverine was killed to save the dog.

  • Kent McMullen

    My wife, young son, and I met my sister, brother-in-law, and their two children on the Wenatchee River, upriver from the town of Leavenworth. While the kids were playing, I went on a walk on a trail on a bank about 25 feet above the rapidly cascading Wenatchee River. It was quiet and the only noise that could be heard was the rushing water. It was then that I spotted a wolverine making its’ way along the far side of the Wenatchee River, about 75 feet from me. I had the advantage of a stand of mature fir trees and I stood perfectly still and watched the wolverine work the rocks along the river. It had the white patch of fur on it’s chest and long dark reddish brown hair. I was and am today 100% positive of the sighting and watched it nearly 5 minutes as it moved downriver. This occurred approximately in July of 1996. I have pictures of our family gathering when our kids were young that would identify the date. I had never heard of wolverines being in north central Washington state, but my sighting confirmed their presence. I have had an interest in wolverines ever since and feel so privileged to have had a live sighting after seeing your wonderful movie and understanding the rarity of sightings!

  • Russ Bonny

    I just watched this wonderful show. I have always been impressed by the fearlessness of wolverines and their ability to survive in, no, their love of the harshest of winter conditions. Being from Winnipeg, Manitoba, I learned to respect the harshness of winter at an early age.

    I was surprised by the closing story about a collared wolverine that traveled from Wyoming to Colorado in 2009, and that it was the first confirmed sighting since 1919. In the winter of 2002-3, I rented a cabin on Willow Creek in Grand County, Colorado. Late on a February afternoon it was snowing lightly on already deep snow. I was sitting in an armchair next to a big window facing the creek. I saw a medium-sized dark animal bounding northward on the far side of the creek. I immediately got goose bumps! It was a wolverine! I sat and watched it jump and frolic up the creek until it passed from view. I consider it to be one of the luckiest moments of my entire life.

    The sighting was on the southwest side of the creek across from the square cabin near the center of this Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/y0TcV

  • Cynthia Bailey

    I watched this show last night with my youngest (9-year-old daughter) who loves wolverines. I don’t know if the researchers or filmmakers ever visit this comments page, but I saw a wolverine one night in the winter of 1989-1990 about an hour outside of Lafayette, IN somewhere. I know it was not a badger (too large and had the characteristic wolverine markings). A friend and I were on a late-night drive out in the country and the wolverine crossed our small road — thank goodness we were driving slowly!

  • Chris Acosta

    I saw a wolverine in West St Paul when I was younger. It was dusk and I was riding my bike near an old stone bridge that was near a wooded area along the Mississippi river. I came upon the wolverine quickly as I rode my bike down the grass hill leading under the bridge. The animal bolted away, startling me. It did not resemble any animal I’d ever seen but I recall it ran like a bear.

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