Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

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What Are Carnivores?

Many wild animals animals such as alligators, snakes and birds of prey eat meat as part of their diet. Frogs and even some plants eat meat in the form of insects. These life forms are carnivorous ( flesh-eating or predatory) but are not technically carnivores.

So What Are Carnivores?

True carnivores, of the Order Carnivora, are all mammals with fur. They give birth to live young, and nurse them on milk from the mother. Their digestive systems are designed for processing meat, not plant matter, and they have sharp teeth and claws to capture their food. Their energy and nutrient requirements are obtained from eating meat.

Carnivores generally have eyes that face forward, providing binocular vision and depth perception to hunt down prey. In contrast, the grass eaters they prey on have eyes set on the sides of their head, giving them a 360 degree field of vision to watch for predators as they graze.

Some carnivores, such as the raccoons and bears, eat a great deal of plant matter – berries, fruit, roots – but are still classed as Carnivores.

The Order Carnivora contains over 260 species which range in size from the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) who weighs as little as 25 grams (0.88 oz), to the 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus). They are found on every continent except Antarctica.

See our Complete List of Carnivores 

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Wolverines Need You!

Wolverine conservation in the Canadian Rockies is taking a new turn, and you can become a citizen scientist helping these magnificent creatures!

Description of the project and research questions being asked

Our research is situated in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This vast area is recognized as critical for harboring important source populations that potentially disperse to and populate more fragmented and disturbed ecosystems to the south, east and west. However, the bustling 4-lane Trans-Canada Highway is recognized as a lethal barrier to wildlife and a fracture zone for population connectivity. As the expansion of the TCH moves up Banff National Park’s Bow Valley, it becomes the first attempt ever to introduce highway mitigation at the spine of the Continental Divide and within core wolverine habitat.

We know wolverines are highly sensitive to human disturbance. There is anecdotal information they rarely cross even 2-lane highways. Given highway expansion projects planned in wolverine range in the US and Canada, it will be critical to understand how growing transportation networks affect wolverine movement and gene flow within the natural connected habitat network they rely on for continued survival.

The goal of our work is to noninvasively genetically sample the wolverine population in Central Canadian Rockies to assess whether gene flow and movement of individuals is blocked by a major transportation corridor. We surveyed the wolverine population during winter 2010-11, and will repeat the survey this winter (2012-13). We are collecting information on their occurrence (from cameras) and population genetics (from noninvasive hair sampling). However, funding limitations have hampered our ability to extract the most data from our extensive hair sampling effort. Our findings will be used to inform transportation practitioners planning the design of highways within wolverine range.

What your money can do

During  our winter 2010-11 survey, we skied over 2000 kms, working in teams of two, and more on long backcountry trips. By May, we collected thousands of the most beautiful and curious wolverine photographs you could imagine, AND 900+ hair samples, of which 125 were analyzed for wolverine DNA. Given the hard work we and the citizen scientists put into hair sampling: deep snow, bitter cold, and long work days with short daylengths, we must mine our data to it’s fullest.

Because of budget constraints, last winter only analysed a fraction of the samples. The cost of DNA extraction, species and individual identification (and gender) is $95/sample. We are preparing for our final survey and season of sampling, which wil run from December through April. With our funding goal realized, we will be able to analyze 100 samples, double from last year. This will provide a more thorough and accurate genetic analysis of highway effects, and will make many hard-working volunteers smile at the end of the day.

The Wild Carnivore has  made a generous pledge towards conservation of our favourite animal, and we urge you to join us! Click here to pledge any amount you can – the wolverines will thank you.

Canadian Grizzly Bear Added To Species At Risk List

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) held their spring species assessment meeting last week in the Kananaskis Valley of Alberta.  The committee considered the status of 35 wildlife species, including our iconic grizzly bear.

Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos  

Western population
Range YT NT NU BC AB MB

The global distribution of this large-bodied carnivore has declined by over 50% since the 1800s, with western Canada representing a significant core of the current North American range. A habitat generalist, its distribution and abundance in the absence of humans is largely driven by habitat productivity and seasonality. It is highly sensitive to human disturbance and is subject to high mortality risk in areas of human activity and where roads create access.

Population estimates in much of the range are highly uncertain; the Canadian population is estimated at 26,000, but the number of mature individuals is uncertain and could be closer to 10,000. While there is no evidence of a decline in the overall population during the past 20 years and increasing numbers of records indicating some range expansion in the north, a number of populations in the southern extent of its range in Alberta and southern BC are known to be declining and there are concerns about unsustainable mortality rates there and in parts of Yukon.

There is strong evidence of genetic fragmentation in the southern parts of its range where some populations are increasingly isolated. Their poor condition in some parts of the range, combined with their naturally low reproductive rates and increasing pressures of resource extraction in currently intact parts of the range, heighten concern for this species if such pressures are not successfully reversed.

Status History
The species was considered a single unit and designated Not at Risk in April 1979. Split into two populations in April 1991 (Prairie population and Northwestern population). The Prairie population was designated Extirpated in April 1991.  The Northwestern population was designated Special Concern in April 1991 and confirmed in May 2002. In May 2012, the entire species was re-examined and the Prairie and Northwestern populations were again considered a single unit. This newly-defined Western population was designated Special Concern in May 2012.

COSEWIC is a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in danger of disappearing from Canada. The process is divided into three sequential steps, each of which has a tangible outcome. The steps are outlined briefly below, and more detail is provided on the web page detailing COSEWIC’s assessment process.

  • selection of wildlife species requiring assessment – the COSEWIC Candidate List
  • compilation of available data, knowledge and information – the COSEWIC status report; and
  • assessment of a wildlife species’ risk of extinction or extirpation and subsequent designation – the record of COSEWIC assessment results

Speaking of Wild Tracks: Identified

I should first clarify that incredible photo of animal tracks in the snow was (unfortunately) not taken by me. It was taken by a friend, who with his sons, was visiting northern Alberta earlier this month. They saw these marks in the snow and were completely stumped as to what could have made them. They mentioned their sightings to a local man, and he said he had seen similar tracks earlier in the week and was equally stumped. Then he walked around a bend in the road and saw the culprits – a pair of Northern River Otters.

Thse playful little animals are active year round, even when water freezes in winter. They are mainly nocturnal, with some activity at dusk and dawn, and you have to be incredibly lucky to see one in the wild.

North American River Otters typically travel in water and are able to swim long distances under ice during the winter. Family groups may travel long distances over land from one watershed to another. When traveling on land, they often slide instead of bounding, especially if snow is present, or when going downhill on slippery ground. When snow sliding, they push forward with their back legs, while the front feet are tucked under the belly.

I managed to find this video on YouTube that gives a clear picture of how those tracks were made in the Jan 6 photo. How cool are these animals?!

Biodiversity 100 – Get Involved!

A new Guardian campaign Biodiversity 100 was launched this week by conservation ecologist Guillaume Chapron and George Monbiot. Biodiversity 100 an international campaign to get those responsible in G20 countries to sign up to very specific pledges to protect our top 100 species or ecosystems that are falling by the political wayside.

In their launch article, Chapron and Monbiot describe the plight of the Pyrenean bear, of which there are only around 20 left in the wild. There are political reasons that more isn’t being done to protect this bear which is on the brink of extinction.

We are looking for our top 100 specific targets we will get authorities sign up to prior to the international biodiversity summit in Japan in October. These can be added via a form [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/13/biodiversity-100-form] on the Biodiversity 100 site or email christine.ottery@biodiversity100.org

Guillaume Chapron:
“As researchers in ecology, we strive that our results are published in the best journals, but we also wish that they can be useful in advancing biodiversity conservation. With many governments stressing their strong commitment to science-based environmental policies, we could hope to successfully reverse the biodiversity crisis. Still, it does not seem to be happening and, in fact, we often observe that pure political considerations prevail over anything else. Are we unable to reach governments or are governments just not listening?.”

The Week In Carnivores #10

The Week In Carnivores #8

This is a weekly roundup of news items featuring the wild carnivores of the world. If you miss the news during the week, check our blog on Fridays!

Felidae

Canidae

Ursidae

Mustelidae

Viverridae

Carnivora

What In The World? #4

Our Friday puzzler this week is a photo – no it is not a skunk. Check back Monday when we reveal what this critter is!

If you’re really up on your carnivores and think you know what this is, drop us a line at bytes@wildcarnivore.com, or leave a comment below.

Yogi Bear Reincarnate?

This not Yellow-Yellow, but an equally intrigued member of her family.

This not Yellow-Yellow, but a member of her family eating real bear food - berries.

If you live or hike in bear country, you know all about keeping your food out of sniffing range. Or at least you should.

Open food left in a campsite is just an invitation for large, furry visitors with teeth & claws. There are a number of solutions available, and in the past it has been popular to encase your food in a tarp or canvas sack, and tie it up in a tree. The bears soon learned that if they chewed on the ropes, they received a nice dinner from above.

Then came the invention of tougher breeds of bear canisters, which proved effective for most bears. Most – but not all.

A clever little female black bear in the Adirondacks of New York State has wildlife officers and bear canister designers scratching their heads.

Named Yellow Yellow for the tags in her ears, this little bruin has managed to defeat not only the childproof top on previously invulnerable polycarbonate vaults, but also new, two-lock systems.

Jamie Hogan, the owner of the California based BearVault, said the designer side of him is very impressed by her actions.

And if one clever bear can pick apart his locks — which include single and double push-tabs to open the twist top — he wonders how soon before others learn the same trick.

Hogan has been told to just sell his canisters for use everywhere else, since it’s only in Yellow-Yellow’s backyard the BearVaults, and other brands, are being defeated. But as a designer, he just can’t give up when bested by a bear.

A new and once again improved locking system is in the works, and will be set out to tempt and test the otherwise shy 125-pound thief.

“She’s a female, and I just see her having babies and passing on the knowledge,” BearVault designer Hogan now frets.

I for one am very impressed with Yellow Yellow’s talent. Based on personal experience, I can’t even open child-proof locks, and I have opposable thumbs. Or possibly too many thumbs, now that I think of it.

As amusing as this story is, let us not forget what happens to problem bears. I sincerely hope they manage to curb her lock-picking proclivities, or her days may be numbered.

Sea Turtle Bag Ban

What do you get when you cross a sea turtle with a plastic bag? A dead turtle.

According to the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation, discarded plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.

Photo Greenhouse Carbon Neutral Fdn

Photo Greenhouse Carbon Neutral Fdn

The world’s consumption rate is now estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 (that’s 500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute. How many of those are thrown away?

Some of the ugly facts:

  • Once brought into existence to tote your purchases, they’ll accumulate and persist on our planet for up to 1,000 years.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags.
  • The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
  • Every single piece of plastic ever manufactured is still on the planet. It is in use, intact in landfills, as windblown litter, and also toxically contaminating global river systems and oceans.
  • There is an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic in each square mile of ocean.
  • There are 39,600 deaths of children around the world who die from asphyxiation from plastic bags.

Saying NO to plastic bags is an easy step towards saving the planet that anyone can do. Each high quality reusable bag has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime.

Join the petition for an International Ban of Plastic Shopping Bags from Greenhouse Neutral Foundation and STOPlasticBags.

By signing this petition today you will have taken a simple step to reduce the ridiculously high numbers of plastic bags tossed or lost around the world.  Spreading the word to BAN the BAG will be an environmental achievement you can, and will be proud of.

For more information, visit the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation blog.