BILLINGS — Spring is the season to welcome new life and that's the case at ZooMontana where they're saying 'hello' to a new pair of wolverine kits.
More than just an expansion of the zoo family, the kits' turning one month old is a win for wolverine conservation as wolverine kits born in zoological reserves don't often survive for more than just a couple of weeks.
“It's the first time wolverines have ever been born (at ZooMontana) so it’s a big deal," said Jeff Ewelt, the zoo's executive director. “It’s a big deal in the zoo world too, unfortunately you just don’t see a lot of wolverines being born in zoological parks and so to be one of the few to be successful this year is an honor.”
The kits were born at the end of January to ZooMontana's resident wolverine couple, Ahmari and Sid, but the zoo kept the news tight-lipped until recently.
“A lot of times wolverine babies in zoological parks don’t make it over the 2-3 week hump, so we just wanted to get past that point and make sure they were healthy," Ewelt said.
Ewelt said why wolverines don't reproduce well in captivity is a mystery. With these kits healthy and growing, ZooMontana is one of the only zoological parks in the country to have a new litter of wolverines this year.
Wolverines are native to Montana and other northern boreal forests globally, but with only 300 in the United States their numbers aren't great.
“To watch these baby wolverines and how fast they grow has been remarkable," Ewelt said.
Ahmari and Sid, both born in 2016, came to ZooMontana from Finland and Sweden, respectively, and are part of a European breeding program targeting conservation called the Species Survival Program.
“Basically this is a program for breeding to ensure genetic diversity. If and when we need to release wild animal populations back into the wild, we can do so with genetically viable animals," Ewelt said.
Guests likely won't see the kits for a while, as mom Ahmari has them safely tucked away in the wolverine's indoor house. You still can spot dad Sid doing laps in the outside habitat, giving Ahmari space.
As for the kits, there's only one piece missing and Ewelt says that will be up to the community.
“The next step is naming them," Ewelt said. "A lot of people want to do a naming contest, so that’s probably where we’ll go. Keep an eye on our Facebook page. Give us a couple of weeks to figure that out and we’ll get something out soon.”