ALASKA HAS ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE A MAGNET FOR DREAMERS AND SCHEMERS, PIRATES AND POETS, A PLACE WHERE ONE COULD LIVE A LIFE LESS ORDINARY AND CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO THAT MOST PEOPLE FOLLOW IN THEIR LIVES. SO, WHEN FOUR-YEARS-AGO WORD TRICKLED OUT OF THE STATE THAT A GENTLEMAN WAS TRYING TO TRAIN WOLVERINES HOW TO DO SEARCH AND RESCUE FOR AVALANCHE VICTIMS, SOMETHING THAT DOGS USUALLY DO, IT DID NOT SEEM THAT FAR-FETCHED.
On the surface, the idea seemed plausible. Wolverines are known to have powerful olfactory senses, ones that can smell something under twenty feet of snow, so they should be able to locate a buried person quickly. Plus, they are not as ferocious as popular culture makes them out to be; they can be downright cuddly if raised correctly in captivity. “If they are born into captivity, you can imprint them. They can be as friendly as a domestic dog,” says Steve Kroschel, the head of Kroschel Wildlife Center in Haines, Alaska. “I have been working with them for almost four decades and have only sustained a minor scratch or bite.”
But what seemed like a good idea quickly unraveled. Mike Miller, the person who came up with the plan and was the head of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, an organization he had helped found, chose the wrong animals. Instead of working with native wolverines raised from youth that he could be involved with, he decided to jump-start the program by importing a pair of Eurasian Wolverines from Sweden. They were not happy animals.
They can be as friendly as a domestic dog...I have been working with them for almost four decades and have only sustained a minor scratch or bite."
“When he first brought them to my center to try and breed them, I told him he was in trouble,” says Kroschel. “What he had were two miserable animals that had not been acclimated to humans and wanted to get away from us. I told him he should send them back so they might be released into the wild.”
It wasn’t long until Kasper, the male escaped and soon was found dead, while Kayla, the female, would not breed. It wasn’t too long after that that Miller ended up leaving his position and headed out of the state. The proposed idea was dead.
"Wolverines are one of the most misunderstood animals in the state. People have the wrong ideas about them," he says. "They are incredibly charismatic, pretty smart, and have been shown that they can do the job. Maybe if they do this, people might stop hunting them and instead realize how beautiful they are."
But, Kroschel thinks that there is merit in the idea. Done correctly, he wholeheartedly believes that wolverines could be trained to save people’s lives and help the species. He filmed a segment several years ago showing one of his animals doing what Miller had proposed. It found someone buried in the snow. “Wolverines are one of the most misunderstood animals in the state. People have the wrong ideas about them,” he says. “They are incredibly charismatic, pretty smart, and have been shown that they can do the job. Maybe if they do this, people might stop hunting them and instead realize how beautiful they are.”
Whatever becomes of this idea, one thing is certain, it takes someone willing to challenge common perceptions to make a difference, and Alaska is full of those type of people.