Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abdominal Transmissions

Biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program occasionally target capturing a juvenile red wolf in a trap, in which case it can be impossible to safely and effectively fit the young wolf with a radio telemetry collar. If the collar is fitted for the young wolf's current size, the wolf may continue to grow causing the collar to become too tight, and possibly even embed itself into the wolf’s neck. If the collar is attached too loose, the wolf may slip out of it and radio contact will be lost. The solution? Abdominal radio transmitters.

Three young siblings, born in the spring of 2010, were recently captured when they were just seven months old. Even for a seven-month-old red wolf pup they were a bit on the small side, weighing in at just over 30 pounds each. An adult red wolf can weigh anywhere from 45 pounds to 85 pounds. Knowing that they could still put on a considerable amount of weight before reaching adult size, we decided to implant them with abdominal transmitters rather than fit them with a radio telemetry collar.

The young wolves were transported to a local veterinarian, where they were sedated and prepared for surgery. A sterilized transmitter was inserted in the abdominal cavity of each wolf through a small incision. Each transmitter emits a pulse signal at a unique frequency which enables biologists to track the animal. After a short recovery period, the pups were transported back to their natal territory and released near their parents. -- Ryan

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Notable Capture

The fall trapping season began with a notable capture. This male wolf was born in 2009 at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL. He and his sister were fostered into a wild litter when they were just two weeks old.

Until his capture in late October we were uncertain if he had survived that first year as a pup. Having dispersed from his natal home range sometime last year, he was caught using a soft-catch trap in a territory belonging to a 2-year-old female wolf.

Radio-collared and released, our hopes are that he will remain in this area and pair-bond with the female wolf, forming a new breeding pair and possibly producing pups in 2011. -- Art

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Gulf Oil Clean-up Continues

As previously posted, field work in the Red Wolf Recovery Program slows down a great deal during the "dog-days" of summer, allowing field biologists to take some well-earned time off, as well as to prepare for the next long, busy field season (fall, winter, and spring). It also presents us with opportunities to assist with a variety of other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projects.

In past summers I have been involved in projects ranging from banding young pelicans and terns and watching over sea turtle nests and hatchlings to traveling around the country fighting wildfires. This summer a call for help came from the Gulf of Mexico to assist in the oil leak cleanup effort, and I decided to sign on.

When I arrived in the Gulf I was assigned to the Department of the Interior's Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Program. The NRDAR Program's primary mission is "to restore natural resources injured as a result of oil spills and other hazardous substance releases into the environment." My assignment was to conduct shoreline assessments of the marshes in southeast Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta region and document any oil found. The data I collected will be used to help assess any ensuing damage to the marshes caused by the oil.

Most of my days were spent on a boat (typically an airboat since they operate well in shallow water) surveying the marshes for oil and collecting pertinent data. I had never before been to the Mississippi River Delta region, but as I worked it really struck me what a unique, diverse, and important area it is, biologically, ecologically, economically, and culturally. The importance of preserving and protecting this region really hit home.

When my 30-day work detail was over, I decided to wrap things up with a nice weekend of R & R in New Orleans, and particularly the French Quarter (where this wildlife biologist experienced a different kind of "wildlife"... but that’s another story!). Overall, my time in the Gulf certainly was time well spent. It was a great experience I won’t soon forget. -- Ryan

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A New Season

Today marks the first full day of Autumn. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler. For the field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program that's a sign that the fall trapping season is right around the corner. It's also a sign that we need to do a little fall cleaning...

...and prepare for the long days of trapping by getting our trap gear in good working order.

Dirty Traps

We set hundreds of traps during the fall, and each trap has to be individually prepared for use. This means cleaning, boiling, and waxing the traps, replacing the rubber-padded jaws, and tuning them to catch red wolves.

Preparing traps is a laborious process, but everyone does their part to get the job done. And in the end a well prepared trap makes the field biologists' job of catching wolves a little easier.

Clean Traps

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Working the Gulf Oil Leak Cleanup

Late July and early August is, in general, a slow period for the field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The wolves have bred and are raising their young pups, and the high summer temperatures limit our field work because we don't want to stress the wolves. When the call came requesting assistance with the Gulf oil leak disaster, I thought it would be a good time to lend a hand with the clean-up efforts.

For the first two weeks of my four-week detail working on the Gulf oil leak, I lived on a barge in the Mississippi River Delta. The barge was located in Dennis Pass, a small cut through the delta emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, about 14 miles south of Venice, Louisiana (i.e. where the blacktop ends). As part of a team of local and national biologists, I spent most days on a small boat conducting wildlife rescue missions. Our primary duty was to survey remote beaches and marshes to locate oiled wildlife and transport them to rehabilitation centers.

On one memorable trip, we traveled 26 miles offshore via sport-fishing boat to rescue young Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, a federally-endangered species. At times, the sea grass and oil would come together to form miles-long, thick windrow-like slicks. As the turtles swam in the waters of the Gulf, they would become entrapped in the mats of thick crude oil floating on the surface.

We netted five turtles from the oil that day, cleaned them off, and transferred them to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration boat for transport to a rehabilitation center for more extensive care and cleaning. By the time I left the Gulf a few weeks later, hundreds of federally endangered sea turtles had been saved from the oil-slicked waters. I believe that that day and the rest of my time spent in the Gulf was time well spent! -- Michael

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Red Wolf Pup-Naming Fundraiser Takes Flight

A fundraiser at Miller Park Zoo has netted some new equipment that will help conserve red wolves in the wild.

Four red wolf pups born at Miller Park Zoo in April were named with a fundraising “contest.” Guests of the Zoo voted on four sets of names by placing a donation in bins located under each group of names. The group of names receiving the most donations was the winner.

The winning names -- Michael (male), Lily (female), Rose (female), and Anna (female) -- were selected in honor of the grandchildren of John Tobias, Miller Park Zoo's Superintendent for 19 years until his retirement in April 2009. John was responsible for bringing red wolves to the Zoo as part of the red wolf captive-breeding program.

100% of the funds raised by the naming contest was donated to red wolf conservation to purchase new antennae for the airplane used to monitor red wolves in the wild.

The Red Wolf Recovery Program and the wild red wolves are very grateful for the contribution of Miller Park Zoo, Miller Park Zoological Society, and everyone who participated by making a donation.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Management Techniques: Radio Telemetry

Restoring red wolves is a more involved process than simply opening a pen or kennel door and releasing wolves into the natural environment to find food, shelter, and a mate. Because red wolves are wide-ranging and secretive, field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program need to employ various methods and techniques to monitor the wolf population. The primary method used to monitor red wolves is radio telemetry. Without radio telemetry it would be nearly impossible to monitor the location of a wolf, their movements and interactions with other wolves, their home range, territory, and the types of habitat they use, the location of their dens, and their ultimate fate.

But before we can monitor or track red wolves, we must first capture the wolf (see Management Techniques: Trapping and Traps) and fit it with a radio telemetry collar. Each collar emits a pulse signal at a unique radio frequency. When biologists wish to locate a particular wolf, they dial the unique frequency of that wolf’s collar on the telemetry receiver and listen for a signal through a headset. The signal becomes audible when the wolf is within range of the antenna, and stronger when the antenna is pointed in the direction of the wolf.

Radio-tracking wolves on the ground is done using a hand-held or a truck-mounted antenna. Wolves can also be radio-tracked from the air. Attaching radio telemetry antennae to the wings of an airplane allow field biologists to monitor the entire population of red wolves in the recovery area in a shorter period of time than when using ground telemetry alone.

Radio telemetry allows us to remotely monitor the free-ranging red wolves, collect important biological and ecological information on the population, and determine the overall success of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. -- Ryan

Friday, June 25, 2010

Management Techniques: Trapping and Traps

There are several reasons it is necessary for Red Wolf Recovery Program field biologists to capture wild red wolves, including to fit a wolf with a new telemetry collar or to replace an old or non-functioning telemetry collar, or to provide medical treatment to a sick or injured wolf. Trapping is one of the most efficient and effective means for the Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists to capture red wolves.

We use a steel leg-hold trap, which requires an animal to step in the center of the trap triggering it to close on the animal’s foot. The traps we use are referred to as a "soft-catch" trap because of the rubber-padded "jaws." Obviously, it would not benefit us to injure the very animal we are trying to conserve, so our traps are highly modified to reduce injury.

The rubber-padded jaws, shock absorbers, and swivels in the trap design lessen the impact of the trap on the animal’s foot. In addition, we set our traps with a drag instead of staking the traps to the ground, which also greatly reduces potential injury to the wolves. Other variables that we consider in the safety and appropriateness of using leg-hold traps when trapping include the age of the target animal, weather conditions, how far the animal can travel after being trapped, other non-target animals in the area, and the level and experience of the field biologist. Field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program have, on average, 16 years of experience trapping red wolves. -- Art

Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010 pup season drawing to a close

As the days grow longer and hotter during spring’s transition into summer, field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program also begin a transition. April and early May represent the ever busy denning season, during which biologists spend the majority of their time creeping through the woods in search of newborn red wolf puppies. The current tally of litters found this year stands at eight, a bit of a disappointment after finding 11 litters a year ago. But this year's pup count is 39, which was close to last year's 41 pups. In addition, two captive born pups were flown in from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and fostered into a wild litter to be raised by wild parents . Fostering captive born pups into wild litters is a technique we have used for several years now (with great success!) as a method of both increasing the red wolf population and preserving genetic diversity.

Now, as summer approaches and the pups get older, the search for additional dens will diminish as biologists begin to make the transition to summertime trapping, maintenance, and catching up on office work. We will, however, continue to monitor the wolf packs throughout the summer months for evidence of potential litters that may have been missed during the denning season. -- Ryan

Friday, May 7, 2010

Long search produces great reward... more red wolf pups!

Four female red wolf puppies (10-12 days old) were our reward for a long, hot day of crawling through thick mats of vegetation and entanglements of vines and briers. The Rich pack's den was finally located in a hole dug into the root system of a large pine tree. To get to it we spent hours searching, literally crawling on our hands and knees, sometimes wriggling along on our bellies through a labyrinth of tunnels underneath a fortress of vegetation so thick that there was really no other way through it.

Still, we couldn't’t help but be impressed with the mother wolf’s selection of a den site – these puppies were definitely well hidden. Although we left the puppies at the den, we did manage to bring home with us a nice collection of ticks, briers, and poison ivy as a keepsake. We don’t refer to the denning season as the ‘itchy season’ for nothing. -- Ryan

Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring brings red wolf pups!

Spring is a special time of year for the field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The days are getting longer, the temperatures are warming, and red wolves will soon be giving birth to pups!

These two female pups, born to the Kilkenny pack on or about April 18, 2010, were estimated to be about 7 to 8 days old when found. Red wolves rear their young in dens of shallow depressions with dense vegetation for cover or in deep burrows along the slopes of brushy windrows or canal banks. They also may create a den at the base of a large tree, which is where these two pups were found. Pregnant females may dig several dens during the breeding season. Den areas are used from April through July, corresponding to the whelping and pup-rearing periods. Litter sizes can range from 1 to 11 pups, with an average of four pups per litter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Are there alligators at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge?

This alligator is a frequent spring and summertime traffic stopper along the section of Highway 64 that cuts through Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The photo was taken on a warm, sunny morning in early April when one of the first 'gator jams' of the season indicated that winter hibernation was officially over. Northeastern North Carolina represents the northern extent of the alligator's range in the United States. -- Ryan

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sandy Ridge entertainer moves to Jacksonville Zoo

Staff working at Sandy Ridge, the Red Wolf Recovery Program's captive-breeding facility at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, have been substantially less entertained as of late. On February 8, 2010, a male red wolf (SB#1390), known for antics ranging from strutting around and chewing on trees in an attempt to display his toughness to playing a game of "keep away" with an unsuspecting biologist’s backpack, was sent to the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida. There he will be paired with his new lady-friend and put on display to share his antics with a wider audience than just refuge staff. The captive-breeding facility at Sandy Ridge is part of the Species Survival Plan® Program, and as such, is involved in an annual transfer of red wolves among zoos and facilities across the nation for breeding purposes and to maximize genetic diversity of the species. -- Ryan

Monday, March 29, 2010

Caretaker's Cabin

As a volunteer caretaker with the Red Wolf Recovery Program I live in a primitive cabin in the heart of a pocosin wilderness while caring for the captive wolves. This unique opportunity enables me to frequently encounter the diversity of wildlife here at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Its truly an unforgettable experience! -- DJ

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mount Rufus (not the one in Tasmania!)

When vehicles and wildlife collide, wildlife rarely come out the winner. This male red wolf was killed when struck by a vehicle while crossing Highway 45 just west of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Although he is no longer part of the wild red wolf population, he will continue to serve the educational needs of the Red Wolf Recovery Program as a taxidermic mount.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How did you spend your morning?

0815 Hrs. -- Having just taken off from the Manteo Airport for today's telemetry flight, I get a nice look at the township of Manns Harbor and the northern portion of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Conditions are overcast, but there is chance of clearing later in the day.

1030 Hrs. -- I get a nice shot of the farm fields from the air while tracking wolves across Tyrrell County. The clouds are continuing to burn off, making for a good flight.

1055 Hrs. -- Today I have surveyed more than 1.5 million acres for red wolf territories and now I am returning to the airport in Manteo. The Outer Banks and the Atlantic Ocean make a great backdrop as we approach the airport. -- Michael

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Releasing the Milltail Pack

One of the busiest times of the year for field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program begins the first week of January and extends through May, corresponding to the breeding and denning seasons of the red wolves. Biologists spend most of their time during this period tracking and capturing wolves to fit or replace telemetry collars and to conduct a general health assessment of each animal. The telemetry collars will help the field biologists track the animals during the upcoming denning season as they look for new litters of pups, as well as being able to follow the pack throughout the rest of the year.

This past January was especially fruitful in our capturing efforts as nearly every member of the Milltail Pack (on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge) was captured and fitted with a new telemetry collar. A total of seven wolves, including the breeding pair, three juveniles born in 2008, and two pups born in 2009, were caught. All were in good health and soon released back in their territory. -- Ryan