California's only known wild wolverine is still alive and roaming somewhere in the Tahoe National Forest, but he is nearing the end of his natural life.
The elusive, mysterious carnivore, first spotted in 2008, has managed to live free in the wild, but its luck may be about to run out.
The average lifespan for a wild wolverine is seven years. Those in captivity can live for up to 18 years.
The animal is now at least 7 years old, says biologist Chris Stermer, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, meaning death could be imminent and the species would cease to exist in California.
Cameras in the Tahoe National Forest last caught the image of the male wolverine in November near Truckee.
After it was photographed, scientists gathered genetic material such as hair and droppings, so they could keep track of any population changes.
The most recent genetic sampling was consistent with material tested in 2008 and made it clear: There are no new wolverines in California
Wolverines are the largest land-dwelling species of the weasel family but resemble small bears with bushy tails. The animals are known for their ferocity. They're found in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, preferring snow and little human interaction.
"Wolverines by nature are elusive," Stermer said. "They are just very difficult to see."
California's wolverine has maintained 290 square miles of living space in the forest, he said, and doesn't appear to be moving out of the area.
Stermer said biologists were assessing, in the longer term, whether it's feasible to introduce more wolverines into California, what areas would be suitable and whether there is enough habitat to support the animals.
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