Status of wolverines in Europe

Status of wolverines in Europe

Author: John Linnell/Friday, June 20, 2014/Categories: Gallery

In the high alpine areas and deep boreal forest of northern Europe roams an animal virtually unknown to most Europeans. Variously known as glouton, jerv, järv, geatki, ahma, ernis, pocomaxa, rosomach, ghiottone or wolverine. Related to martens and badgers, wolverines are incredibly tough animals with a lot of attitude that eke out a living under harsh conditions.

There is a lot of talk in Europe about the four species of large carnivores. Most Europeans will be able to identify wolves and brown bears, and many will recognize a picture of a lynx. However, the fourth European large carnivore – the wolverine – is totally unknown to most Europeans. It is also a species about which there is comparatively little scientific knowledge.

During the last two years, the European Commission has funded a project to conduct a European wide review of the status of large carnivores. The process involved contributions from independent experts from all European countries, and covered wolves, brown bears, lynx and wolverines. The report summarises the status of wolverines in the period 2008-2011.

Wolverines are only found in four European countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. There were clear differences in the quality of information available concerning wolverine status. The best data is available from Norway, where there is a nationwide monitoring program for wolverines that produces annual counts of natal dens and an annual population estimate based on analysis of DNA from faeces. Each year, over 100.000 km of surveys are driven using snowmobiles to collect scats and look for dens. Wolverines are also hunted within an annual quota hunt. In addition, state game wardens also conduct wolverine control operations. The overall objective is to maintain the wolverine population at a level that has been determined by parliament. The latest estimates are for around 385 wolverines in Norway – distributed from the Barents Sea coast in the north of Finnmark down to the latitude of Lillehammer in southern Norway.

In Sweden, monitoring is mainly based on monitoring known natal denning sites, with some additional use of DNA from faeces and even camera-traps in the forested areas. Current estimates are around 680 wolverines in Sweden. Monitoring between Norway and Sweden is becoming increasingly standardized. Finland has a different monitoring system, based mainly on track counts, and current estimates are for around 70-80 wolverines in the north which are regarded as being part of the same population (termed the “Scandinavian” population) as those in Sweden and Norway. In addition, come another 80-90 wolverines in the central forest areas that have some connection to wolverines in Russian Karelia. This is termed the “Karelian” population. Wolverines are not hunted to any large extent in Sweden or Finland. There is currently very poor data from the Russian side, but the most recent estimates are for 150-170 in Russian Karelia. There are also an estimated 350 wolverines on the Kola peninsula – but it is not known to what extent these connect to either the Scandinavian or the Karelian populations.

The total of around 1200 wolverines in the three Nordic countries makes wolverines by far the rarest of the four large carnivore species in Europe. However, most of their distribution overlaps with the reindeer husbandry areas in the Nordic countries, and the conflict caused by depredation on reindeer is common to all countries. Reindeer herding is mainly conducted by members of the Sami people. Some wolverines do occur outside the reindeer husbandry areas in all three countries. In Norway, wolverines are also associated with significant conflicts with free-ranging sheep. It is only in the forested habitats of south central Sweden and central Finland that wolverines occur in areas with limited depredation conflicts. Depredation represents a great challenge for management as it is clear that the Nordic countries have a special responsibility in a European context for the wolverine, yet their distribution is almost entirely in areas where they conflict with livestock. In fact, in most of these areas wolverines depend on domestic reindeer as prey. Finding a way to secure viable wolverine populations and minimize their impact on reindeer is going to require filling in the gaps that we have in our knowledge of this species that has received much less attention than lynx, bears and wolves. Current research is focusing on trying to quantify the numbers of reindeer and sheep killed by individual wolverines.

John Linnell, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe


Further information:




This animation shows the development of the Scandinavian wolverine population from 1996 to 2010


This short video (in Norwegian) shows how DNA technology is used to monitor wolverines in Norwat.




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