Wolverines are one of the more elusive figures in Northern wildlife (the immensely popular comic character notwithstanding). On the large and muscular end of the weasel family Mustelidae, they’re known for a certain ferocity (related to the honey badger), and unknown for so much more—little has been recorded about their living habits, even though the carnivores live right here in Alberta. In 20 years of making wildlife films, Andrew Manske had never caught a glimpse of a wild wolverine.
“I’ve filmed lots of polar bears, grizzlies, wolves, other major predators, owls, birds of prey—but never seen a wolverine,” he recalls. “Never came across one, never had a chance to film one.”
Manske knew there was one group of people who do somewhat regularly encounter wolverines: trappers. He started asking to put his cameras on their traplines; in doing so, he unofficially began the five-year process of accumulating the footage for Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forest, which premières this Thursday on CBC’s The Nature of Things (with an Edmonton sneak-peek screening at the Garneau Theatre the night before).
Even once Manske started getting footage, it came slowly; his own tribulations in gathering footage factor into the documentary alongside the actual animals. For the first few years, Manske was restricted to night sightings only; he was living in tiny blinds, little hidden hovels without much room. He was sleeping on the ground, not seeing much in return—at least not that he could show anyone else. In 2013, though, he and business partner Brian Bilson buried a custom-built (by Bilson) eight-by-five-foot blind (with room for a cot!). Manske eventually spent 28 days in there, and sure enough, started seeing wolverines romping around in the daytime. A few more outings like that, plus additional footage of a joint wolverine research project—between the Alberta Conservation Association, the Alberta Trappers’ Association and the University of Alberta—and there was enough material to construct his film.
Needless to say, Manske has an immense patience to him, to be able to submit to endurance-run waits for even the opportunity of a good few minutes’ of footage. But he sees it as simply being part of the job: to film animals in the wild means immersing yourself in the process of waiting.
“You’ve got to be resilient, and determined, and never giving up,” he says. “I’ll spend a month somewhere trying to film, and won’t get any footage, but I’ll go back again the next year because I know there’s still the opportunity there. It’s kind of like keeping your eye on the prize, always understanding that the potential is there: if that animal comes out, I’ll get something really awesome. So you just got to keep hoping you’ve got to see it. And eventually you will.”
Wed, Feb 24 (9:15 pm)
Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forest
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
The, Feb 25 (8 pm)
The Nature of Things, CBC Television