Michigan's 'Lone Wolverine' is a traveling exhibit
Stuffed historical state symbol to make rounds at museums
Michigan had unofficially been known as "The Wolverine State" for about two centuries — or ever since the animal was believed to have last roamed free in either peninsula.
Then on Feb. 24, 2004, a group of coyote hunters spotted a lone female in the state's rural Thumb region.
The wolverine's discovery caused a stir among Michigan residents, who couldn't help but marvel at her solitary existence and wonder how and why she arrived in the state.
Over the next six years, she lived in the heavily wooded Minden City State Game Area, subsisting on beavers, hares and other prey until her death at age 9. The wolverine's carcass was discovered by a couple hiking through the game area in late winter 2010.
Two years later — after being stuffed and mounted on a tree limb — she's embarking on a tour of the state she inexplicably called home. Perched and at the ready, her days are now spent as a display created by the Michigan Historical Center.
The first three stops on the "Lone Wolverine Tour," which began in June, were at county buildings or courthouses in the Thumb. A tentative itinerary has the traveling exhibit heading soon to the Upper Peninsula and to the more heavily populated areas of southeastern and West Michigan next year.
"It's really beautiful," 59-year-old dairy farmer Elmer Guigar said as he peered inside the box at the Huron County Building in Bad Axe, not far from where the wolverine initially was confronted by the hunters.
Jackie Coulter, a resident of the Detroit suburb of Wixom, 125 miles away, brought six children with her to see the rare animal.
"I just love stuff like this. It's what it's about. It's educational," she said.
Coulter and her crew circled the wolverine, examining every inch.
"I think it looks like a beaver with a bushy tail and sharp teeth," said Elaina Wondolkowski, 9.
The wolverine actually is a member of the weasel family. Looking somewhat like a small bear — the Thumb wolverine weighed 25 pounds — wolverines are ferocious fighters, unafraid to battle much larger animals when threatened. Driven up a tree by the coyote hunters' dogs, the Thumb wolverine urinated on one of the hunters when he got a little too close.
The traveling exhibit is particularly gratifying for Jeff Ford, a former science teacher and outdoorsman whose interest in the Thumb wolverine bordered on obsession.
The Caro resident spent years tracking, photographing and videotaping the animal. Ford and journalist Elizabeth Shaw recently released a book, "The Lone Wolverine," that details Ford's pursuit.
"People had a hard time really believing that this wolverine did live out here in the Minden City State Game Area," Ford said. "But when they go and see her mount and see the actual wolverine that lived here ... they'll realize what an incredible thing it is for Michigan's natural history."
It's not known exactly why Michigan acquired its unofficial moniker, but the state's official website says "two stories attempt to explain it."
One is that Ohioans provided the nickname around 1835 during a dispute over land running along the boundary, likening Michigan residents to "vicious and bloodthirsty" wolverines. The second story has Native Americans, also during the 1830s, comparing Michigan settlers to wolverines "because it made them think of how the gluttonous wolverine went after its food."
Regardless of how it came to be, it's a connection many in the state still cherish, particularly those fond of a certain maize-and-blue football team that plays its games in Ann Arbor.
Ford said the animal he affectionately refers to as "the pretty lady," has given his home state a gift.
"What this wolverine did, being the first wild wolverine that's ever been confirmed here in over 200 years — before Michigan became a state — it really gave us the right to say, 'Yeah, we are the Wolverine State,'" he said.
2012 Wolverine Tour
June 4-22: Sanilac County Courthouse (Sandusky)
June 22-July 6: Huron County Building (Bad Axe)
July 6-July 22: Tuscola County Courthouse (Caro)
July 23-Aug. 15: Hartwick Pines State Park (Grayling)
Aug. 16-30: Upper Peninsula State Fair (Escanaba)
Sept. 1-Oct. 15: Porcupine Mountains State Park (Ontonagon)
Oct. 16-Nov. 30: Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center (Cadillac)
Dec. 1-March 30: Saginaw Bay Visitor Center, Bay City State Recreation Area (Bay City)
(Once back in Bay City, the exhibit may be available for brief appearances at other venues in the thumb area.)
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