Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Special report: A wolverine returns

July 15, 2009, 8:19 am

Enos Mills likely never saw one, at least not in the national park he helped establish in 1915, and he traipsed all over the area.

William H. Jackson, whose Colorado landscape images from the late 1800s and early 1900s number more than 20,000, lacks the image of a wolverine. In fact, only six images of wolverines in Colorado have been verified dating to 1801, according to a thorough study of wolverine reports in the 2006 Journal of Wildlife Management.

Make it seven — and the first for an animal that has not been seen in the state in 90 years.

Fort Collins wildlife photographer and Xplore columnist Ray Rafiti’s sighting and photograph of a wolverine on June 26 not far off well-traveled Trail Ridge Road ranks as the sole wolverine image caught on camera in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The historic sighting and image of one of North America’s rarest and least studied mammals has stirred incredible excitement in park officials and visitors, the scientific community and Rafiti.

“As a photographer, it’s more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Rafiti, who has been photographing wildlife for 30 years, the past three years in passionate fashion. “Just to see a wolverine is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but to photograph one is beyond my imagination.”

Said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson: “The park would be hard pressed to think of a more significant wildlife sighting since the park was established than that of the wolverine. A sighting of a grizzly bear or wolf pack, now that might change things.”