March 14 (UPI) — A rare wolverine was photographed crossing a snowy road in Yellowstone National Park by a tour guide who crossed his path.
MacNeil Lyons, a former park ranger who owns the travel company Yellowstone Insight, photographed the wolverine from his vehicle window as he led a tour group on March 5.
“We felt beyond thrilled with this chance encounter with this elusive creature,” Lyons wrote in a Facebook post.
“We turned the corner in a westerly direction and in the oncoming lane there was a dark animal low to the ground moving away from us.”
Lyons said his guest initially thought the animal was a young black bear until the group realized it was a wolverine.
“We were able to spend a good three minutes with this unique and rare animal. From his size, I’m guessing he’s a healthy male,” Lyons said.
“The wolverine was curious for a moment. It jumped twice on the snow berm adjacent to our lane and came back to the road to gauge us as our vehicle was stopped, idling.”
He said the wolverine eventually ran up a hill when another car approached, but when the car passed, Lyons was able to take the most prized shots.
The images are important because the wolverines themselves are rarely seen and only seven have been documented as living in Yellowstone and adjacent national parks, according to the National Parks Service.
Wolverine numbers declined dramatically in the 1930s due to commercial trapping and predator control efforts. Plans to list them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act are on hold while researchers determine the effects of climate change on their habitats.
Most images of wolverines in Yellowstone National Park come from researchers using remote cameras to record their activity.
Due to their rarity, conservation groups like Wolverine Watch encourage people who encounter them to photograph them and report sighting details such as GPS coordinates and descriptions of the animal’s behavior.