Mount Rainier’s Joni the wolverine has triplets

It’s highly unusual for wolverines to have back-to-back litters like Joni does, which means Mount Rainier is a great habitat

Joni the wolverine continues to thrive in Mount Rainier National Park and her family just keeps growing.

Last month, the Hood River, OR-based Cascades Carnivore Project spotted Joni with three new kids while they were traversing just outside the park’s boundaries.

This brings Joni’s total count to nine — not quite to the level of a “100 Baby Challenges” Sims video game run, but it’s certainly an impressive achievement in its own right, because wolverines don’t often have litter after litter like this, according to Jocelyn Akins, founder of the Cascades Carnivore Project.

This means that Joni’s, let’s say, “regular nocturnal activities” with her partner Van means Mount Rainier is primo habitat, which can spell success for bringing wolverines back to Washington. There is very little research on wolverine reproductive success over the long-term.

“That is what is unique about our research. We have been monitoring the recolonization of wolverines into southern Washington each year since 2008,” Akins said in a recent email interview. “Her success says the habitat is very good for wolverines at Mt. Rainier National Park. Wolverine reproduction is tightly tied to food availability during winter. Its pretty rare to reproduce year in year out.”

Wolverines became locally extinct in the state (or extirpated — there’s your word of the day) in the 1920s in part due to unregulated trapping, shooting, and poisoning. Known to be notoriously difficult to track down because they live high up in mountain ranges year-round and have vast territories, Akins says there’s no real way to know how many wolverines live in the lower 48 states.

While the local wolverine population mostly lives in the North Cascades, some have chosen to move south. One wolverine was spotted on Mount Adams in 2006, which inspired Akins to start the Cascades Carnivore Project to study how wolverines and other rare predators survive in the state.

Another wolverine, Pepper, was spotted in the William O. Douglas Wilderness in 2016. She successfully had kids in 2019, making her the first wolverine to do so in the South Cascades in decades.

Joni — named for the singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell — is the first wolverine to make Mount Rainier a home in over 100 years. She was first found in 2019 and was confirmed to be female a year later.

Pepper and Joni’s kits were half-siblings, as Van was the father in both cases.

The Cascade Carnivore Project team will continue checking in on Joni and her kits to see if her triplets survived the critical first months of their lives. The team will also continue to monitor the small and growing South Cascades wolverine population in the hopes of new individuals arriving, possibly from the north, as they work to understand what is needed for wolverines to regain their foothold in the Cascades.