Rare Wolverine Triplets at Cotswold Wildlife Park

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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’. 

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4_Wolverine 5 NIPhoto Credits: Cotswold Wildlife Park

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.

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Ferocious Wolverine Pups Born in Sweden

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Staff at Nordens Ark in Sweden finally got a glimpse of their newest residents, three Wolverine pups. The pups, born on February 21st, recently emerged from their mother's den; where they spent the first six weeks of their lives completely dependent on their mother.

Wolverines have a fairly small captive population of around one hundred individuals internationally. Since Wolverines are considered to be difficult to breed in captivity, and are associated with high infant mortality, this is a very important birth for the captive population. This is the second litter for the mother. She proved to be an excellent mother to her first litter of pups, so keepers are optimistic about the outlook for her newest batch.

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Photo credits: Tom Svensson / Nordens Ark

Wolverines are medium sized predators. They are classified in the same family as Weasels, and are the largest species in this grouping. They are ferocious predators that are known to take down prey several times their own size. Native across the Northern Hemisphere in North America, Europe and Asia, Wolverines have adapted to a wide range of habitats. They are currently listed as species of "least concern" by the IUCN due to relatively large population numbers. Despite this, in February of 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed give the species protection under the Endangered Species Act due to habitat loss as a result of global climate change.

Feisty Wolverine Cubs - First-ever in the UK!

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The United Kingdom just welcomed it's first-ever Wolverine cubs at Cotswold Wildlife Park. While the trio were born in January, the cubs are just now making their debut from the den. Born to mom Sharapova and her mate Sarka, the cubs are part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme (EEP). There are only eighty wolverines in zoos worldwide.

The cubs are born blind, with a cream colored fluff, which turns darker at the same time as the typical face mask develops. After spending around nine weeks in the den, keepers (and visitors) are finally seeing the rare cubs as they venture out and explore their new woodland enclosure. Wolverines feature prominently in many Finnish myths and legends, so the cubs have been given Finnish names: Ensin (meaning ‘first’, as they are the first to be born in this country, Nalka (meaning ‘hungry’, due to their voracious appetite) and Niemi (named after the Curator’s daughter).

Wolverine Cubs Together Cotswold Wildlife Park

Wrestling Wolverine Cubs at Cotswold Wildlife Park

Jamie Craig, Curator of Cotswold Wildlife Park and member of the EEP committee for Wolverines, said: “The Wolverines are a particular favorite at the Park and certainly do not deserve their fearsome reputation! Having said that, Sharapova is extremely protective of her cubs and keeps a close eye on the inquisitive male, Sarka. We are delighted to be the first UK collection to breed this species and the cubs will eventually move on to become important breeding animals in other European zoos.”

Wolverines are the largest terrestrial mustelid, which puts them in the same family as weasels, martins, otters and other animals . The elusive beast has a reputation for its power and ferocity and is also known as ‘The Glutton’ due to its rapacious appetite, consuming large quantities in one sitting. Wolverines possess one of the most powerful bites per square inch of any mammal.

Baby Wolverines Are Not So Fierce

For the first time in thirteen years, Skansen (aka the Stockholm Zoo) welcomed the pitter patter of little wolverine paws! Since wolverine cubs are born hidden away in the den, the exact birth date is unclear. However, keepers suspect it was in the middle of February when mother Jonna started spending more time in the den and chasing away her mate, Untamo, when he got too close. When keepers spotted tiny footprints in the snow, they knew it was just a matter of time before the cubs would choose to make their debut, seen below:

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Photo and video credits: Skansen

Skansen specializes in native Swedish species and participates in regional conservation efforts.