Photographs by Peter Mather
Text by Henry Fountain
February 11, 2021
On Alaska’s North Slope, treeless and snow-shrouded for much of the year, it isn’t easy being a wolverine. The sinewy, solitary animals survive through a constant search for food, burrowing into snowdrifts to rest.
But the Arctic is rapidly changing, warming much faster than any other region, and the snow is melting earlier. Researchers want to understand how wolverines will adapt.
Peter Mather, a photographer, documented researchers’ fieldwork over several seasons. The images provide a rare glimpse at wolverines in the Arctic wilds.
With their large feet, wolverines can pad their way across the snowy tundra as if on snowshoes. But there is little place to hide from their main predator, the Arctic wolf. They have the stamina to chase caribou for dozens of miles if necessary, and the strength to kill the much larger animals.
But wolverines are also scavengers, using their strong jaws to feast on carcasses left by wolves.
Since 2014, the Wildlife Conservation Society, together with partner groups, has been studying Alaska’s wolverines. The goal, says the project coordinator, Tom Glass, a doctoral candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is “to understand ecological relationships between this species and the environment in this quickly changing place.”
Over two years 24 animals were trapped, anesthetized and given satellite-tracking collars that transmitted data about their movements and behavior.