Meet ‘Sunshine’, ‘Liv’ and ‘Gutt’: the new Wolverine cubs at Cotswold Wildlife Park, in the UK. After spending approximately nine weeks hidden away in their den, the rare cubs are beginning to venture out and explore their new woodland enclosure under the watchful eye of parents ‘Sarka’ and ‘Sharapova’.
Cotswold Wildlife Park made history in 2012 as the first in the UK to successfully breed Wolverines in captivity. These new arrivals are Sarka and Sharapova’s second litter and are testament to the Park’s excellent European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). Only around eighty Wolverines are believed to exist in captivity worldwide. Breeding is notoriously difficult with this species, so the new cubs are encouraging news for future generations.
Keepers were unsure exactly how many cubs had been born until mother Sharapova started bringing the youngsters out of the den. Jamie Craig, Curator of Cotswold Wildlife Park and member of the EEP committee for Wolverines, commented: “Once the female enters her den, we are pretty confident that the kits have arrived. She is an excellent mother, only leaving the kits for very brief periods to eat and drink. Once the kits are old enough, she will allow them out to investigate their surroundings but always under her vigilant eye. We were delighted to be the first UK collection to breed this species, and in many ways, it is even more rewarding to repeat our success.”
The tiny kits are born blind and covered in white fur with a pungent waxy substance on their pelage. This acts as a great defense against predation while the kits are vulnerable.
A Wolverine’s start in life is a unique one. Adult females have a fascinating reproductive strategy known as embryonic diapause or delayed implantation. The embryo does not immediately implant in the uterus, but is maintained in a state of dormancy which allows pregnant females to fine-tune births and wait for the best possible conditions. Reproduction is hugely energetically expensive for any animal. If the environmental conditions aren’t able to support a female through the intense periods of pregnancy and nursing, it makes no sense to put energy into giving birth to young that may not survive. Diapause can last up to ten months in Wolverines.
The Wolverine is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae (weasels). They are a stocky and muscular carnivore and have a reputation for ferocity and strength that is out-of-proportion to their size. The adult Wolverine is about the size of a medium dog.
Wolverines prefer colder habitats and can be found primarily in remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in northern Canada, Alaska, Nordic Europe, western Russia, and Siberia.
The Wolverine is currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, their populations have experienced a steady decline since the 19th century due to trapping, range reduction and habitat fragmentation.
More amazing pics, below the fold!