My first taste of natural history conservation was when I started work on a wolverine skeleton, which had already been partially cleaned. The skeleton used to be articulated on a stand for display, but now the forelegs have been taken off for easier storage in a cardboard box.
Gulo Gulo (Linnaeus,1758), are mustelids, like badgers and weasels, they live in the Boreal forests of North America and Northern Europe, they are incredibly powerful, looking somewhat like little bears. They are opportunistic feeders, and can take down a large deer if the deer is hampered by deep snow, they will scavenge the kills of other animals and the females hunt small mammals when they are rearing their kits. If they kill more than they can eat they will cache it and come back later. They mark these caches with the typically mustelid scent glands.
After some digging in filing cabinets and reading though old reports I found that; ‘as opportunities not unfrequently occur of obtaining objects of interest and value, by purchase only, the curators have thus secured several highly important specimens’ this was from 1865 and the Wolverine (Glutton) was one of these specimens.
Emma the conservator at Leeds showed me how to set up the steam cleaner, which gets right into the bone and drives out the deeply engrained dirt, this is currently considered the best method to clean bones.
Once a good head of steam had built up in the machine, I donned the kit; lab coat, goggles, ear defenders and, of course gloves. All my senses impaired I sat down and started on a fore limb, it is definitely satisfying to see the dirt blasted off the bone, although I was probably breathing in wolverine dirt.
Cleaning the feet of the wolverine was quite a fiddly task, but revealed that there was a lot of tendons, and even a toe pad still left on the foot. This is interesting for biologists, but a conservators nightmare as it will attract pests.
Working up the foreleg again, I noticed that the scapula has some irregular bone material that suggests that the wolverine had been injured or had an infection and the wound had healed.
After lunch and a refill of the water chamber I was ready to tackle the ribs and skull. I did the skull first, noting that the sutures on the nasal bones were visible which also points to it being a younger animal, as in mustelids all the sutures on the skull fuse and are not visible in adult specimens.
Once I finished the ribs, which were very fiddly, yet didn’t seem to get much cleaner, I laid the whole skeleton out to dry on top of the freezer. (this freezer is empty, but the conservator won’t let me fill it with specimens)
If you want to see high res versions of the pictures, let me know in the comments.