Five years in Alberta’s wild with wolverines
Five years in Alberta’s wild with wolverines
PHOTO: Iris Jasmin Kraftka
By Andrew Manske  
wolverine in snowOne of the wolverines, Shaggy, captured on film by Andrew Manske

I’ve been making natural history films since 1995, and have spent much of that time capturing hard-to-reach, hard-to-find animals all over North America. I have filmed many different species over the years, but have made a speciality of following wolves, polar bears, grizzly bears and other northern predators. Wolverines were one apex predator there was very little record of in the wild, so about five years ago I decided I wanted to be the one to make a film about them.

I’m an experienced and toughened filmmaker, but to be honest, looking back, I’m not entirely sure I would have undertaken this project if I’d known how challenging it was going to be. Wolverines are incredibly wary animals and they live in some of the most extreme and inhospitable habitats in the world. They are also largely nocturnal. Finding them is hard enough, getting them to come out in the daylight so I could film them was something else again. I travelled a long way through cold and snowy conditions to reach them, and then spent many uncomfortable days and nights waiting for them to appear.

The key to making this film was motion-activated trail camera technology. These cameras have become relatively inexpensive, about $500 each, and they work really well.  I own 12 to 15 of these cameras myself, and by placing them in various locations I was able to pinpoint where wolverines were and then formulate a plan to go out and film them for myself. 

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Manske prepares to film wolverines in the wild

I filmed from various blinds in various places, and it took me a bit of trial and error to figure out which kind of blind in which location would work best. Ultimately, what it took was the animals’ accepting that there was a guy in the blind but he wasn’t a threat.  Because they definitely knew I was there. When they finally did start coming out during the day to feed at the carcass, they would look up and stare at me the whole time.

People have asked me about the highlights of making this film. There are lots. It was a thrill to have them come right up to my blind. Once, there was a wolverine no more than a meter away from the back of the blind. I couldn’t film him there but it didn’t matter. Just knowing there was a wolverine right outside was pretty cool. Some nights I would be lying there in the blind and I could hear them sniffing around outside. I just loved soaking it all up.

It was a highlight to discover the different personalities that wolverines have. Some of them are playful, others are really cautious all the time. They are all different characters.

It was also a highlight to discover the different personalities that wolverines have. Some of them are playful, others are really cautious all the time. They are all different characters.  Another personal highlight was being able to film one wolverine – a male named Brutus – for almost five years. He was a dominant male when I saw him the first time, but later on he got badly beaten in a fight with another male and lost his territory. He was wounded and desperate, so for a while he kept coming back to the box traps to find food even though he knew it meant getting caught. The research team from the Wolverine Project eventually gave him some antibiotics. I think he is still out there today, hopefully healthy and re-established in a new territory.

As for my takeaway from the experience of filming wolverines, there is one big one.  Wolverines should be left alone. If they are, I believe they will be just fine out there in the wilderness. They are so adaptable and tough – they will survive.

When I finished this film, I figured out I was done with wolverines, but I’m going back out there for the month of March to film them again, this time for a BBC documentary about the mountains. The Latin name for the wolverine is Gulo gulo, which means the glutton.  I guess I’m a bit of a glutton myself – I need to film some more wolverines!