Wildlife ‘whisperer’ trains wolverines for mountain rescue (VIDEO)
Like bears, wolverines live off a diet of both meat and vegetation. With sharp blades for claws and a ferocious bite, this member of the weasel family has been known to take down prey more than twice its size.
However, Alaskan animal conservationists believe the wild beasts can be put to good use - training them to sniff out humans like mountain rescue dogs. The only thing stopping the idea from becoming more widespread is the fact that captive wolverines are hard to breed.
“One hundred years ago, people who suggested using dogs for avalanche victim search were thought to be crazy,” Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center founder Mike Miller told Outside.
“Anything you can train a dog to do, you can train a wolverine to do, five times quicker.”
Steve Kroschel, who runs a wildlife sanctuary north of Haines, is reportedly working with the conservation center to train the creatures for search and rescue missions.
A self-described naturalist, Kroschel credits his affinity with wildlife to growing up on a ‘Walton’-like farm in Minnesota, where his parents took in orphaned animals.
His goal to be in tune with Mother Earth also means he rarely wears footwear.
“I’ve been working with wild animals my whole life… I don’t know what normal life is like without a wild animal following me, on me, or I am chasing it,” Kroschel told Indie Alaska in 2014.
While the stocky, bear-like wolverine has a fearsome reputation - perhaps bolstered by its X-men namesake - Kroschel says they can be tamed through human contact from birth.
In all his years playfully “wrestling” with wolverines, he’s never been mauled or had to go to the emergency room, he told CBC News.
“You can train them to a harness very easily, they love that,” Kroschel told the Canadian news channel.
“And when they’re bonded with you, they will follow you around in the mountains like a dog.”
Kroschel showed off a wolverine named Jasper, who had an incredible sense of smell and shoveling capabilities, to National Geographic more than four years ago.
In the short clip, Kroschel packed clearly nervous presenter Casey Anderson under a heap of snow.
“You are the carcass and goodbye. But you are going to be saved, however, by a wolverine,” Kroschel said, before Jasper came to the rescue.