This is exactly what the Yellowstone Insight guide team saw on August 8, 2022. Finally revealing this marvel (with photographs) is Naturalist Guide Doug MacCartney, who recounts the once-in-a-lifetime sighting from his recent backpacking adventure.
“While hiking in the Teton Wilderness, my two companions (Steve and Bill) and I planned to summit a particular peak of interest to us. We left our campsite for our four mile route to the summit,” MacCartney begins. “There was a band of snow we would have to ascend. We chose our spot and headed for it. As we approached I noticed a grizzly sow with two COY (Cubs Of the Year) leaving a spit of snow a few hundred yards east of our spot.”
As MacCartney and his crew began climbing the Yellowstone snow field, they had to keep an eye on the bears. After spotting another cub, “Suddenly, Bill noticed that the bears were running. I looked to see why and notice a wolverine leaving the top of a big rock going in the bear’s direction.”
“I then spotted another wolverine running toward the bears and then another,” MacCartney marvels, showcasing the photos of the incident above. “Bill and Steve thought I was crazy till they saw them too,” he adds.
Anyone would think Doug was crazy for telling them this story. Wolverines are not only endangered, but incredibly elusive mammals. It’s rare enough to spot one in Yellowstone, or ever. But to spot these elusive predators – who are notoriously solitary – in a group a dozen strong? Now that is truly a sighting for the history books, and one Yellowstone National Park will surely take note of.
‘It was very hard for us to keep track of all of the wolverines and the bears as they fled the area’
MacCartney’s initial sighting only got more grand as time went on. As the first wolverines continued to chase the grizzly, Doug saw “another group of wolverines, a mother and two kits.”
The wolverines were “chasing the bears for quite a while,” he continues. “But when the bears took an easier route out of the bowl along a rocky ledge, the growing group of wolverines went up into a higher snowfield and it was there that half of the wolverines continued up in the vertical rock face on the right side of the snow field,” he explains.
“It was very hard for us to keep track of all of the wolverines and the bears as they fled the area. I counted, for sure, a total of TWELVE wolverine at one time! Steve said he counted THIRTEEN, which I don’t doubt (especially after looking at the photos).”
In mere minutes, the mammas all gained 1000-feet in elevation as the chase went on. And believe it or not, MacCartney says another Yellowstone grizzly sow and two cubs showed in the area.
“We couldn’t believe what we had just seen,” he lauds. “We were all pumped up and in awe by what we had just witnessed.”
What Caused this Gathering of Solitary Wolverines in Yellowstone National Park?
Yet Doug was left wondering, what could cause such solitary mammals to gather in such large, unprecedented numbers? He consulted a regional expert on wolverines, Jeff Copeland, to get some answers.
According to Copeland, this event may represent “wolverines congregating in higher elevations with a focus on eating Army cutworm moths, as we know grizzly bears do. Jeff went on to say that they have documented wolverines consuming white bark pine nuts (as do grizzly and black bears) in the high elevation mountains.”
Another local Yellowstone expert, Dr. James Halfpenny, offers a different explanation. “There might have been one or more animal carcasses in the vicinity that drew the attention of the wolverines and bears,” MacCartney paraphrases.
“And lastly, it is not unusual as it was once thought, that wolverines at times can be quite gregarious,” Yellowstone Insight adds. “But with that said, 12-13 wolverines seen at the same time, on the same mountain, congregated together is quite unbelievably phenomenal.”