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The Lone Wolverine

Tracking Michigan's Most Elusive Animal

Elizabeth Philips Shaw

Publication Year: 2012

It began in late winter of 2004. Almost 100 years had passed since the last spotting of a wild wolverine in Michigan when coyote hunters caught a glimpse of one of the animals in a frozen farm field in the northern thumb region. For the next six years, Jeff Ford, a local science teacher and amateur naturalist, devoted himself to locating and filming the wolverine that had unexpectedly and inexplicably appeared in the Wolverine State. By the time hikers found the animal dead in early 2010, Ford had taken hundreds of rare live action photos and shot numerous hours of video, with the story of the "Wolverine Guy" attracting national attention through countless newspaper and magazine articles and appearances on Animal Planet and PBS Nature. This is the tale of Ford's quest as he uncovered answers to mysteries surrounding the animal's territory and movement patterns, while sparking a flurry of controversy surrounding the elusive predator's origin, much of which remains unresolved today. It's an intimate look at research in the raw, from DNA samples stuck on barbed wire to a sophisticated, motion-sensing infrared camera unit strategically placed to observe nocturnal behavior. The Lone Wolverine brings to vivid life this unforgettable piece of American wildlife lore, using candid interviews, public records, and Ford's own vast storehouse of notes, personal writings, correspondence, and images, offering an extraordinary chronicle of a wild wolverine in its natural habitat, at play and in fierce competition for food and survival. This is a wildlife detective story, recounting years of study and fierce debate as researchers pondered the riddles of Michigan's last wolverine---her origins, habits, and ultimately the cause of her untimely death.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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pp. vii

Back in the spring of 2010, I had recently left a 12-year post as a reporter for the Flint Journal in Flint, Michigan, where I worked as the outdoors, environment, and health beat writer. I had, of course, read occasional news stories over the years about Michigan’s Thumb wolverine, but my first real encounter with the story wasn’t...

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pp. ix

The authors would like to thank Dr. Audrey J. Magoun of Wildlife Research and Management in Fairbanks, Alaska; Judy Long, Administrative Manager of The Wolverine Foundation, Inc.; US Forest Service Wildlife Biologist (retired) Jeffrey P. Copeland; and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist...

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March 13, 2010

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pp. 1-7

It was still a week out from spring and unseasonably warm for a state as far north as Michigan, especially in the mitten-shaped state’s Thumb region—an endless place of flat farm fields and narrow woodlots, where every scattered, solitary farmhouse and silo rears up from the land like the lonely hand of a drowning man thrust...

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December 18, 1970

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pp. 8-16

Born with a condition known as pyloric stenosis, Jeff’s stomach was plugged at the opening to the small intestine, making it impossible for the tiny infant to do anything but vomit up any nutrition. He was literally starving to death in his mother’s arms. Emergency surgery repaired the problem and Jeff recovered fully, but...

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February 24, 2004, First Sighting

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pp. 17-27

The snowstorm had started around 2:30 p.m. on the previous day, dropping from the sky in thick white flakes throughout the night all across the flat expanses of Michigan’s Thumb. It was still coming down steadily at 2:00 a.m. when Aaron Schenk stepped out of the Verona bar where he played in a weekly pool league...

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February 24, 2004, Later That Day

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pp. 28-47

Jeff Ford heard the news first from a clerk at a party store on the 20-minute drive home from teaching science classes at Deckerville High School. A wolverine had been run by a coyote hunter’s dogs up near Ubly, she said, a small town less than a half hour from where they stood talking...

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March 14, 2005

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pp. 48-66

But Jeff’s real motives ran much deeper than that. Just as he’d done as a young boy when he’d read everything he could find in order to understand the seemingly inexplicable behavior of the Montana grizzly his family had encountered so many years ago, Jeff wanted to solve the mysteries of Michigan’s wolverine...

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Early Spring, 2005

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pp. 67-76

“When that wolverine was first documented by the hunters and those photos hit the Internet, our website just exploded. We got literally hundreds of e-mails too,” said Judy Long, administrative manager of The Wolverine Foundation. “I guess for Michigan it was pretty exciting, being the...

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Late Spring, 2005

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pp. 77-95

Jason hadn’t been so lucky with his newer digital Cuddeback model. True, he’d managed to capture the image of a bald eagle gliding across a clear blue sky—but, unexpected and magnificent as that might seem, it was hardly the same thing as capturing a shot of Michigan’s only known wild wolverine...

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Summer, 2005

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pp. 96-109

By early July, they had over 50 pictures of raccoons but not a single new shot of the wolverine. Jeff knew by now that whenever raccoon images were in abundance on their cameras the wolverine wasn’t, and vice versa. Quite likely it was a matter of wise avoidance on the part of the raccoons, which knew better...

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January, 2006

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pp. 110-121

Even Gianna Savoie, a producer from the popular PBS program Nature, had contacted him to discuss including his story in a science documentary being produced on wolverines. A year ago, few people outside the Thumb had ever even heard of Jeff Ford. Now it seemed all kinds of important people from...

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February, 2006

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pp. 122-132

The previous year, wolverine sightings had been reported near Ancaster, Ontario, east of the Thumb and elsewhere in southern Ontario. Now tracks had been spotted 300 miles north, on or near the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve—a protected wildlife refuge northeast of Lake Superior offering 2,700 square miles...

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Spring, 2006

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pp. 133-144

Then his dad took a different approach. Didn’t Jeff realize his camera baiting might be fostering in the wolverine a dependence on humans for a steady food supply? That could reduce its natural instinct to avoid the scent and presence of humans and even encourage it to seek out human habitations as a source of food...

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April, 2006

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pp. 145-156

Even though the initial DNA results seemed to conclude the wolverine was of Alaskan origin—and therefore most probably an escaped pet or zoo exhibit—Jeff lost none of his enthusiasm for studying her. In fact, he reached out to the public through the press and his website for any clues readers might be able to provide...

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Summer, 2006

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pp. 157-165

That spring Jeff and his crew had finally managed to solve the frustrating problem of the wolverine making off too quickly with their bait by double strapping the chunks of carcass several feet off the ground between two trees. The innovation was paying off with extended footage of her efforts to solve the...

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pp. 166-174

For Jeff Ford, the third year began as cold and barren as the vast frozen farm fields of Michigan’s Thumb. The digital cameras had logged a few pictures of the wolverine in the fall, but by October there was nothing. A single vague, faded track in the mud was the only sign he’d seen of her in endless weeks, and even then he...

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pp. 175-187

In October 1980, researchers discovered that a wolverine had attacked hares caught in live traps during the last night of a monitoring session in a stand of young lodgepole pine seedlings near Prince George, British Columbia. Unable to remove the hares from the traps, the wolverine had simply consumed...

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Last Dance, 2009–10

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pp. 188-200

But with each passing weekend it became a little bit harder to shrug off the weird mix of fear and discomfort that overcame him as he prepared to go in. The surgeries and enforced convalescence had left him with an entirely new and foreign sense of his own vulnerability and mortality. He dreaded the physical...


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pp. 201-203


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pp. 205-207

Production Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780472028474
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472034871

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012