Monday, February 11, 2013

Management Techniques: 2013 Wolf Capture and Processing

Currently, the field biologists of the Red Wolf Recovery Program are spending many hours trapping wild red wolves.  It’s the time of year when efforts are focused on capturing pups from last season in order to assess their health and fit them for a radio-telemetry collar to ensure future monitoring.  To safeguard against poor collar fit, we wait until pups are approximately 8-9 months old and have reached their full size.  Once a red wolf is captured via a soft-catch steel leg-hold trap, it is secured in a kennel and transported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Red Wolf Education and Health Care Facility.  Here, it is processed and held prior to its release.

Wild red wolves are instinctively fearful of humans and are generally docile when handled. A wolf is typically restrained by placing a muzzle over its mouth, tying or holding its hind legs together, and keeping a hand on its shoulder to hold it down. All precautions are taken to maximize the safety of the wolf as well as the biologists handling the wolf. 

Wolf biologists performing a health check and fitting a red wolf for
a radio-telemetry collar.  Photos by C. Lucash/USFWS.

Processing involves recording the wolf’s weight and body measurements, drawing a blood sample for future research, administering vaccines to prevent rabies and other common canid diseases, assessing the overall health of the wolf, and finally, fitting it with either a GPS or VHF radio telemetry collar so that it can be monitored upon release.  This year, Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists are also helping Louisiana State University graduate student, Kristin Brzeski, to collect ectoparasites from a captured wild red wolves. Ectoparasites, such as ticks, are being collected from wolves as part of a larger study examining red wolf immunocompetence (more to come on this research project soon!).  

 Radio-collared red wolf in kennel, waiting for transport and release.  Photo by C. Lucash/USFWS.

After the processing is complete, the wolf is usually transported back to its home range and released (see videos below). In some special cases, biologists can also pair up individuals who have previously lost a mate.  In cases like these, the animals are introduced to each other in a captive pen to hopefully establish a bond and become a breeding pair in the home range of the original wolf. Stay tuned for more details on a pair like this (blog forthcoming on Valentine’s Day)!

 Red wolf releases. Videos by A. Beyer/USFWS.

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