Sunday, February 5, 2023

Park Guide Spots Ultra-Rare Yellowstone Wolverine for Once-in-a-Lifetime Closeup Encounter

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When a nature guide and his guests spotted a dark blotch of an animal waddling across a snowy road in Yellowstone National Park, they thought it was a young bear—at first.

The creature soon saw them parked in their Chevy Suburban, looked them straight in the eyes, and seemed to make a connection. It was then that tour guide MacNeil Lyons, 48, realized they were having a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a Yellowstone wolverine.

It was early March, and the owner of  tours was accompanying a father and his 9-year-old daughter on a sightseeing expedition. Hailing from Long Beach, the young lady was enthralled by the snow.

(Courtesy of MacNeil Lyons / Yellowstone Insight)
By late morning, the trio already had an epic sightseeing trip under their belt—witnessing wolves, bison, elk, and golden eagles.

In high spirits, they were returning from the park’s northeast gate when they came across the almost-mythical animal. Rounding a bend in the road, there was the flat-bodied beast on the move.

“The guest said out loud exactly what I was thinking, ‘Is that a bear?’” Lyons told The Epoch Times.

When he realized it was no bear, Lyons was stunned.

“It’s coat was pretty spectacular,” he shared. “It had a very well-defined color to its one front paw which is not uncommon, it looked like it had been dipped in white paint.”

With its size, he estimated it to be a healthy male.

(Courtesy of MacNeil Lyons / Yellowstone Insight)
The former park ranger, who has worked in Yellowstone for 22 years, guessed there to be only some six or seven wolverines in the entire 2.2-million-acre park, which spans three states. The species is also notoriously shy.

Lyons had only seen one Yellowstone wolverine before this one—from a few miles away. This latest he and his party met up close, eye to eye, for three whole minutes.

“We were just in awe,” Lyons told the newspaper. “Just speechless.”

With no other vehicles around, the wolverine lingered, showing signs of curiosity toward the humans. Some 200 yards off, the mammal sat and watched them, and lifted its nose to sniff their scent in the spring air.

“It jumped up onto the snow berm adjacent our lane twice and returned to the road to size us up as our tour vehicle was stopped, idle,” Lyons said.

(Courtesy of MacNeil Lyons / Yellowstone Insight)
Breathless, Lyons grabbed his camera to snap a few images, while his guest video-recorded the encounter. After a few minutes, a car approached from behind them, and the wolverine scampered off, bounding up a steep, snowy embankment. On higher ground, behind dense evergreen trees, it disappeared from sight.

But as they rolled forward, they managed to catch one last glimpse of the incredibly rare beast.

“Stop, there it is!” Lyons’s passengers cried.

He parked and slid out of the driver’s side open window to capture an image over the roof of the SUV.

“I was able to see what my guests could not—the amazing profile of this elusive animal in its element,” he said.

After the sighting, Lyons’s good friend world-renowned wildlife tracker Dr. James Halfpenny visited the site to check for tracks, reporting that the animal had been on the road for less than 130 yards.

(Courtesy of MacNeil Lyons / Yellowstone Insight)
“Considering this, we were actually very blessed to be there at that exact moment to witness this rare animal before it scampered back in to the dense evergreen forest that parallels that stretch of Yellowstone’s road corridor,” said Lyons.

Solitary creatures, wolverines have been compared to the ferocious honey badger of Africa. “It’s only 30 pounds, but it packs a really bad disposition,” Lyons said. “They’re not an animal to mess with, but they typically want nothing to do with humans.”

Typically inhabiting higher elevations, the Yellowstone wolverine might have been lured by this year’s milder winter, Lyons said. They are typically scavengers during winter, but also prey on small mammals—such as rodents, beavers, squirrels, marmots, and mice—and feed on vegetation.

(Courtesy of MacNeil Lyons / Yellowstone Insight)
Lyons believes it’s likely this encounter with people was a first for the wolverine.

“When you consider that this national park is large enough to fit Rhode Island and Delaware and still have lots of wiggle room, the fact we were placed at the exact time this wolverine decided to cross the road is unfathomable,” he said.

“We didn’t want the tour to end, we wanted it to keep going,” he added. “But at the same time, we also wanted it to end so that we could share this experience.”

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