By Douglas Maxwell Myer, Contributing Writer
Southborough – Wildlife biologist Rebecca Watters, a Southborough native and graduate of Algonquin Regional High School, came back to her hometown April 16 to give a presentation about her experience and studies on wolverines at the Southborough Community House. Watters currently lives in Bozeman, Mont., and goes on yearly expeditions to the northern Mongolian mountains where she conducts extensive research on these rare animals.
Wolverines are an elusive species, according to Watters, and it has proven to be a difficult task for researchers to fully comprehend their traits and lifestyle. Their habitats lie in cold secluded regions and they depend on the deep spring snow to build their dens. Watters explained that wolverines are members of the weasel family, with the ability to disperse up to 500 miles and defend territories up to 500 square miles. Although these mammals generally weigh up to 30 pounds they have the tenacity to hunt and kill a full-grown moose, making them one of the toughest animals in North America.
Watters received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Saint Lawrence University, served in the Peace Corps for two and half years in Mongolia, and attended graduate school for environmental science at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. While
doing her master’s research on wolves in the Greater Yellowstone, one of Watter’s contacts invited her on a wolverine field expedition. She was intrigued and agreed to hike high up in the Absaroka Mountains.
“The first night out, a wolverine came into our camp, which in and of itself was astonishing,” said Watters. “There are wolverine biologists who work on the species for decades and never see one in the wild.”
The wolverine ended up spending over 10 minutes in the campsite. It was a combination of that experience, being in the elevated snowy wilderness, and the fact that these species are poorly understood and hard to study that inspired Watters to take on the challenge of researching wolverines.
Watters found out that there was an unstudied population within Mongolia and in April of 2013, National Geographic sponsored a five-person expedition to the country’s mountains. In the course of 23 days, Watters and her companions trekked approximately 230 miles in an ecosystem that proved to have many challenges, including frozen lakes and snow that was well above their waists. Despite the hardships the team was able to locate 28 sets of wolverine tracks, collected 33 samples of DNA, and found remains of elk and birds that
were eaten by wolverines.
One of the challenges this species currently faces is the increasing temperatures, melting the snow that wolverines depend on. Wolverines have a low reproductive rate, giving birth to only one or two kits every other year, and have been nominated for the endangered species list several times. Watters strives to spread knowledge and preserve the lives of these creatures.
“The next generation of biologists have a big task ahead of them with the rising climate change,” Watters noted. “It’s also important for people to appreciate the outdoors and species that are a part of it.”
For more information, visit The Wolverine Foundation at wolverinefoundation.org.