MINDEN, Mich. - The Wolverine State has lost its only known wild wolverine.
The body of the 28-pound female was found Saturday along a trail in Michigan's Thumb.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment is conducting tests on the body.
"There's no visible indications of the cause of death," Arnie Karr, a wildlife biologist for the department, told the Bay City Times. "According to the conservation officers, it did not appear that she had been dead very long."
Most North American wolverines are found in the northern woods and tundra of Alaska and Canada.
Until six years ago, the last known Michigan sightings of wolverines were in the early 1800s. Their reputation as fierce hunters led to their selection as a mascot for the state and for the University of Michigan's sports teams.
In 2004, coyote hunters spotted a wolverine near Ubly, about 90 miles north of Detroit. Naturalists have followed it since then. No others have been sighted.
Deckerville High School science teacher Jeff Ford has been keeping track of the wolverine since 2005.
He said the animal bore markings "like a fingerprint" that distinguished it from others of its species and said years of monitoring have failed to document any other wolverines in the area. Mr. Ford has shared video and still photos of the wolverine with students and others.
"I feel like I lost a member of my family," he said.
Two hikers found the body in the Minden City State Game Area, about seven miles southwest of Minden.
The hikers "spotted what they thought was a dead beaver, partially submerged in the water near a beaver dam," the department said in a statement. One of them "pulled it from the water and realized it was a wolverine."
Mr. Karr said the department plans to have the wolverine mounted and displayed, probably at the Bay City State Recreation Area's visitor center.
How the wolverine got to Michigan remains a mystery, said the high school's assistant principal, Steve Noble, who also has followed and photographed it over the years.
Most likely, Mr. Noble said, is that it crossed an ice bridge from Ontario. There have been recent island sightings in Canadian Lake Huron, he said.
"We're going to hold out hope," he said. "Maybe if that lake freezes over, another one will want to join us."43.67167 -82.77097
The Wolverine State has lost its only known wild wolverine. The body of the 28-pound female was found Saturday along a trail in Michigan's Thumb.