MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Yesterday, we told you the story of how the once thriving Druid wolf pack in Yellowstone Park's Lamar Valley was down to one lone wolf. Well, today we've learned about another lone critter story. This time, a lonely wolverine named Buddy. He's made his home in the Tahoe National Forest in California. A wolverine has not been spotted in the state for some 90 years.
Wildlife biologist Amanda Shufelberger has been studying Buddy for the past three winters, and she joins us now on the line. Welcome to the program, Amanda.
Ms. AMANDA SHUFELBERGER (Wildlife Biologist): Thank you very much.
NORRIS: First, give us a quick description of what a wolverine looks like, since many of us have never encountered one and perhaps think of them as a member of the "X-Men" comics or the University of Michigan mascot.
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Well, they're one of the largest members of the weasel family, but they actually look like a small bear cub; under 40 pounds and they have a dark brown body with this broad yellowish, horizontal band around their body. And they look stocky and slow, but they're actually pretty fast and quite agile.
NORRIS: What's their temperament?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Well, they have a reputation for being quite vicious. But they're actually very reclusive and they try to avoid people at all cost.
NORRIS: As we said, wolverines have not been spotted in California for some time. They were once, however, native to the state. What happened to the state's wolverine population?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Well, the historic range of the wolverine was throughout the Sierra Nevadas and a little bit into northwestern California. And they figured trapping was originally the likely cause of decline.
NORRIS: Were they killed for their fur?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Yes.
NORRIS: So where did Buddy come from and how did he make his way to Tahoe?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Well, after DNA was collected on him, it closely matched that of individuals in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho. And so there's different theories of how he got here. That's probably the most interesting part of the story is we know where he came from, but we just don't know how he got here.
NORRIS: Did he travel all that distance or perhaps hitch a ride?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: That's the theory, that he either made his way here on his own. Or he had help from humans, either accidental or intentionally. Or that he has just been here this whole time and maybe his heritage is from Idaho, but he's been able to fly under the radar since then. We just don't know. That's kind of the fun of it is when you get together with the people, everyone has their different theories.
NORRIS: If there's just one, and Buddy lives out there in the wild, how are you able to track him?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Well, my company, Sierra Pacific Industries, we've been doing a forest carnivore camera study on all our lands in the Sierra Nevada, so it was actually accidental. We just moved the cameras up to North Tahoe and, boom, he came in and so that's how I'm able to monitor him. I have almost 1,000 pictures and videos of him at these bait stations I set up and - with either deer meat or chicken or turkey. And he comes in and I have a motion detection camera.
NORRIS: So he's all alone.
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Yes.
NORRIS: No Betty for Buddy?
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: No. No, not that we know of. We have cameras in other places so maybe we'll get another one. There's a lot of unverified reports all over California of other people seeing wolverines. But we just have no other proof.
NORRIS: We originally spotted this story about Buddy in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the article suggested a better name for him might be Randy because he's so lonely.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Well, right now we're approaching breeding season, so I think he might be feeling a little lonely right now. But I just say he enjoys being the consummate bachelor.
NORRIS: Well, Amanda, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Ms. SHUFELBERGER: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Amanda Shufelberger is a wildlife biologist tracking a lone wolverine in California's Tahoe National Forest.