A Sacramento man believes he has snapped a picture of what only remote motion-sensitive cameras have captured before: a wolverine in the Sierra Nevada.
David Messa, 51, was on a camping trip in Nevada County on May 19 when around nightfall he took a picture of what suspiciously looks like a wolverine walking on a thawing lake.
The rare sighting came when Messa was on a camping trip near Spaulding Lake. During an all-day hike at nearby Beyers Lake at 8:41 p.m. he took a picture of the animal.
"It was fairly dark," he said today. "I hear him come galloping across the lake. I wasn't sure exactly what it was."
He was also not sure how his digital camera worked on a low-light situation. The camera takes a sequence of three shots very quickly and combines them all, because of low light, into one photo, he said.
He could see the camera was not taking great photos of the wolverine. The animal ran by, fell through the snow a few times, splashed around in water and then pulled himself back up.
Then, the wolverine ran back toward Messa and was about 40 yards away when he took the picture.
"I knew I only had one chance to get the photo," he said. "So when I pushed the button, I panned along with him and got the photo."
The animal with furry front legs then ran off and he was gone.
Messa knew it was not a bear, he was sure it wasn't a pine marten. He also knew he was not that far away from Castle Peak.
A doctoral student in wildlife biology at UC Davis has captured photos of a wolverine on the north side of Castle Peak with a motion sensing camera.
Still, he was only viewing a tiny screen on the camera. When he got home and looked at it on the computer screen, he was pretty sure, especially when he saw the tell-tale white streak on the side of the animal, that the image was that of a wolverine.
"It looked like a wolverine to me," he said. He sent it off to experts at the U.S. Forest Service and state Fish and Game.
In 2008, a wolverine was discovered in the Tahoe National Forest north of Truckee. Scientists believe the creature continues to roam the region.
They have found hair samples and baited remote cameras that have snapped his image. His DNA closely matches that of wolverines in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho.
While other wolverines have reportedly been spotted over the years, the animal photographed four years ago was the first confirmed in California since 1922, when a trapper killed one.