The first verified wolverine spotted in North Dakota in nearly 150 years was shot and killed by a rancher last month.
The rancher said the animal had been harassing livestock when he shot it, which would make it a legal kill, according to the Helena Independent Record.
The rancher "came out to a calving pasture and the cows had surrounded the wolverine and he felt it was a threat,” state furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker told the newspaper.
The wolverine, known to wildlife officials as M56, had made headlines in 2009 for traveling some 500 miles from Wyoming into Colorado.
While his collar stopped transmitting in 2012, he continued to wander: he was shot about 700 miles from where he was last seen, according to the Billings Gazette.
"In some ways it’s a little mind-blowing that they can travel that far," Bob Inman, a wolverine biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the newspaper. "But that’s what we’re learning is possible."
Wolverines look a little like small bears, but are actually related to the weasel, according to National Geographic.
They will eat nearly anything, dead or alive, and are known for their aggression. NatGeo calls them "tenacious predators" and says they can take down much larger prey when needed, including caribou.
A necropsy found M56 was between 8 and 9 years old, at the far end of the 6-10 year life expectancy of the animals.
"It had a good run," Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Matt Robbins told the Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, Colorado.
"It could have just naturally expired and we would have never known its fate, but now we know that much more about the animal and how far it eventually did travel," he was quoted as saying. "I think that seeing that this animal lived as long as it did and traveled as far as it did, that does help validate the reports of what these animals are capable of."
Rebecca Watters of the Wolverine Blog posted a memorial to M56 earlier this week, saying she received emails regularly from people looking for more information about this particular animal.
I answered such an email this morning, to a third grade class in Ohio, sending along cheerful speculations about how he was probably still alive and wandering around the Rockies. He was a genuinely famous wolverine, people were inspired by his story, and I’m caught between astonishment that he had gone all the way to North Dakota – North Dakota! – and sadness at his end.
"Unknown animals die unmourned all the time, so it shouldn’t matter. But storied wolverines… they are rare, and they hint to us of all the wild and unseen and amazing lives that go on beyond our awareness," she wrote. "That’s something worth thinking about."
The status of the wolverine has been under debate for a number of years. In 2014, federal officials declined to add the wolverine to the list of endangered and threatened species.
However, a federal judge last month ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reevaluate that decision after a lawsuit from environmental groups.
(h/t Raw Story)