Carr burn bear returns to the wild

In early August, CDFW personnel rescued a young female black bear near Whiskeytown in Shasta County. The bear had severe burns to all four of her paws as a result of the Carr wildfire. Following her rescue, the 1.5-year-old bear spent just over one month recovering at the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory where she received tilapia fish skin treatments and other therapies to assist with healing. The recovery was deemed successful – all four paws re-epithelialized, regained function, and the bear put on a significant amount of weight – and she was released back into the wild in mid-September. Due to challenges with placing a collar on a still-growing wild animal, the WIL turned to an international company, GPS Collars Ltd., for an alternative tracking device: the EarTraX V2 GPS/GSM/UHF wildlife telemetry ear tag (https://www.gpscollars.co.uk/product-EarTraX-GPS-GSM-UHF-id5). In addition to being less obtrusive than a collar, the solar-powered unit will utilize existing cellular networks to transmit the bear’s location. The data collected will provide CDFW with valuable insight into bear behavior and landscape usage in post-wildfire areas

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Steps towards restoring an endangered species (Part II)

By Austin Roy (Scientific Aid)

Reintroductions, translocations, and augmentations are methods of restoring or increasing wildlife populations.  These actions require a lot of planning and are often expensive.  These methods involve removing animals from a source population and placing them in another location.  The goal of these efforts are usually to establish a sustainable population where one did not previously exist, provide new individuals to a site with a low population in hopes of increasing the population, and providing new or rare genes to a population that may need genetic rescue, among other reasons.

Healthy habitat at the recipient site that voles were translocated into.

Healthy habitat at the recipient site that voles were translocated into. Photo courtesy of Risa Pesapane

This summer our University of California, Davis and California Department of Fish & Wildlife (WIL) research team conducted a population augmentation for the endangered Amargosa vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis).  Our goal  was to supplement a very small population of voles in one marsh with new individuals and genes from a larger population in another marsh.

A "hard" release of a collared vole at the donor site.

A “hard” release of a collared vole at the source site.

We placed radio collars on 3 voles at the source site, 4 voles that we removed from the source site and relocated to the recipient site, and 3 individuals at the recipient site.  By collaring both relocated voles and resident voles at source site and the recipient site we could monitor how relocated animals utilized the new site and whether or not resident individuals were impacted by the presence of new individuals in their habitat.

Janet Foley (UC Davis Principal Investigator) conducting radio telemetry for collared Amargosa voles.

Janet Foley (UC Davis Co-Principal Investigator) uses and antenna and receiver to listen for the signals of radio- collared Amargosa voles. Photo courtesy of Risa Pesapane.

The data we collected will greatly benefit vole recovery and inform how we conduct future releases.

In addition to the augmentation efforts this summer we also continued to study the population cycles of voles and predators in the area.  These studies allow us to better understand how voles and predators use the area how the predators may be affecting vole populations.  We have also been studying the vegetation and water levels to better understand the needs of the Amargosa vole.  These efforts will help us better understand how to restore and improve vole habitat.

Stephanie Castle, Risa Pesapane, and Amanda Poulsen (UC Davis Graduate Students) conducting a point count for Amargosa vole predators.

Stephanie Castle, Risa Pesapane, and Amanda Poulsen (UC Davis Graduate Students) conduct a point count for Amargosa vole predators.

The research this summer would not have been possible without the support from our partners at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, CA Department of Fish & Wildlife (Region 6), Integral Ecology Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Shoshone Village, Inyo County Roads Department, and the Amargosa Conservancy.

 

The Tule Elk, A California Comeback Story

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

The elk (Cervus canadensis) to this day remains an icon of what once was the unsettled, untamed American frontier.  There are four extant subspecies of elk in North America.  The Manitoban elk (C.c. manitobensis) is exclusive to Canada, but the other three subspecies can be found in California.  They are the Roosevelt elk (C.c. roosevelti) of the north coast rainforests, Rocky Mountain elk (C.c. nelsoni) of the northeastern counties, and the tule elk (C.c. nannodes) native to the Central Valley.

Elk distribution in California.

Elk distribution in California.  Photo courtesy of the DFW Elk Management Program.

Tule elk look similar to other elk in general size, shape, and color (albeit tules wear a slightly lighter brown).  Generally speaking, however, tule elk are overcome in maximum size by both Rocky Mountain elk and the great Roosevelt elk.  A good sized Roosevelt bull, the largest of the subspecies, can reach 1,000 pounds or more.  Tule elk are the smallest subspecies; in fact, at one time they were colloquially referred to as ‘dwarf elk’.  A large bull tule elk will tip the scales at about 700-800 pounds (hardly a ‘dwarf’ by any means), yet under ideal conditions they may grow larger.

The tule elk, the smallest of the elk subspecies, are best adapted to open country and semi-desert conditions among elk races (McCullough 1969).  Image source: CDFW

Tule elk once roamed the San Jaoquin Valley in ample numbers.  Early settlers found tule elk roaming the foothills of the Sierra Nevada west to the central Pacific coast and from the headstream of the Sacramento River south to the Tehachapi Mountains.  Much like the affliction of the American bison on the Great Plains, tule elk became a casualty of human settlement — particularly after the Gold Rush.

Unregulated market hunting, competition with livestock, and the introduction of nonnative plant species all contributed to the decline of tule elk.  What was more devastating, however, was the conversion of elk habitat to agricultural land.  When settlers turned to the plow not only did it remove food and cover resources for elk, it also brought about direct conflict between elk and farmers.  Increasing crop and fence damage fueled campaigns for the removal of the tule elk by those individuals whose livelihoods were affected.  By the time elk hunting was banned by the state legislature in 1873, it was unknown if any tule elk even remained.

Luckily tule elk did remain, thanks in part to the protection provided by California cattle baron Henry Miller.  In 1874 a pair of Tule elk was discovered on the Miller and Lux Ranch by a local game warden at Button Willow.  Miller set aside 600 acres (near present day Tule Elk State Natural Reserve) to give the elk a chance to rebound.  In 1914, the elk had experienced such growth in numbers that Miller requested the California Fish & Game Commission work to relocate the elk from his ranch.

In order to relieve Miller from elk damage to his property and crops (reportedly estimated at $5,000 per year), the U.S. Biological Survey attempted to relocate tule elk by lassoing them from horseback and transporting them to new areas, with little success.  From 1914 to 1934 the California Academy of Science took on tule elk relocation activities 21 times over the next several decades.  These attempts were not very successful either, although they did contribute to establishing the herds at Owens Valley, Cache Creek, and the Tupman Reserve.

From 1971 through 1989 complete species protection was granted to tule elk.  State and Federal laws were passed to prohibit hunting of tule elk until a population of at least 2,000 was reached.  Habitat improvement programs combined with an aggressive reintroduction campaign by the Department of Fish & Game and other state and federal agencies yielded a significant increase in California’s tule elk population.

Tule elk of the San Luis National Wildlife Refugre, circa 1970s.  Image source: BLM 3rd Annual Report to Congress on The Tule Elk.

Tule elk of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, cca the 1970s. Image source: BLM 3rd Annual Report to Congress on The Tule Elk, March 1, 1979.

Today there are twenty-two tule elk herds in the Golden State, totaling around 4,200 individuals with the population trending upward.

Due to competing land use practices, it is not easy for tule elk to freely move between sub-populations; this requires the Department of Fish & Wildlife to take action in order to meet statewide management objectives.To help maintain healthy herds, every so often CDFW is tasked with capturing and relocating healthy elk to different established

Dr. Annette Roug (right, kneeling) leads a team of biologists as they attempt to weigh a cow elk.  Photo credit: Joe and Nancy Rodrguez.

Dr. Annette Roug (front right) leads a team of biologists as they attempt to weigh a cow elk. Photo credit: Joe and Nancy Rodrguez.

herds.  Removing elk from one herd and placing them in another helps to simulate the natural movement of individuals between herds which increases genetic diversity, an important function of a healthy population.

The Wildlife Investigations Lab took part in one such capture and relocation effort at the end of March.  A total of 36 elk were captured via helicopter from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos.  Once elk were netted from the helicopter, they were processed by capture teams.  Capture teams took measurements, collected hair, blood, and other biological data to assess the health of the herd before they moved on to their new locations.

The animals were successfully released to join their new herds.  A portion of the captured animals were also radio-collared to collect post-release movement information.

An elk sets eyes on joining its new herd.  Photo courtesy of Joe and Nancy Rodriguez.

An elk sets sights on joining its new herd. Photo courtesy of Joe and Nancy Rodriguez.

To read the CDFW news release from this successful capture, click here.

For more information on the CDFW Elk Program, click here.

Interested in more tule elk biology?  Click here.

 

 

Growing Up Kit Fox

By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid

Spring is a transformative season in California’s Colorado Desert. The mild weather and gentle rains that trickle down during this time of year are what entices the desert flora and fauna to awaken from their dormancy.

California's Colorado Desert. This desert is a subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert that encompasses Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Map image courtesy of http://www.grabovrat.com.

California’s Colorado Desert. This desert is a subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert that encompasses Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Map image courtesy of http://www.grabovrat.com. Inset photo courtesy of Jaime Rudd.

Colorful desert flowers come into bloom and sweeten the air as moths, butterflies, bees and other insects bustle about collecting pollen all the while fertilizing each blossom.  Various desert reptiles come out from torpor and sprawl upon the sand as the sun’s rays rest upon their backs.  The invertebrates and small mammals, when not offering new life of their own, are out collecting seeds and eating the newly arrived vegetation. It is also the time of year when the mild-mannered spring desert welcomes the next generation of desert kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis).

A mated pair of desert kit foxes. The male (top photo), stretches after a night of hunting for both his mate (bottom photo) and himself. These foxes both serve as disease sentinels in the California Department of Fish & Wildlife's (CDFW) desert kit fox disease monitoring project. Each fox is equipped with a radio collar that emits a unique frequency allowing biologists to monitor their survival after an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) occurred in this desert valley the year before.

A mated pair of desert kit foxes. The male (top photo), stretches after a night of hunting for both his mate (bottom photo) and himself. These foxes both serve as disease sentinels in the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (CDFW) desert kit fox disease monitoring project. Each fox is equipped with a radio collar that emits a unique frequency allowing biologists to monitor their survival after an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) occurred in this desert valley the year before. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

Monogamous in nature, kit foxes form pair-bonds that can be lifelong. During the early stage of pup-rearing and care, the female will hermit herself inside the den. Her mate is busier than usual, setting out to hunt for two, returning to the den with prey.

This female desert kit fox keeps a close eye on her den. She has 4 pups that her and her mate have been diligently been providing for.

This female desert kit fox keeps a close eye on her den. She has 4 pups that her and her mate have been diligently been providing for. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

Once the pups are old enough, they are coaxed from their subterranean shelter under the watchful eye of their parents.

Already a couple of months old, the pups begin to explore a bit more while their parents remain close by.

Already a couple of months old, the pups begin to explore a bit more while their parents remain close by. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

At nearly 3 months old, these pups are gaining more independence. While neither parent is seen in the photograph, they remain nearby.

At nearly 3 months old, these pups are gaining more independence. While neither parent is seen in the photograph, they remain nearby. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

The pups will continue to stay with their parents for the duration of spring and early summer. The later summer months bring with it heat, independence, and all too often difficult life lessons. It is in these later months that the journey into adulthood and harsh desert introductions may end for some.

Remote cameras captured these images of a bobcat (Lynx rufus, top photo) and a coyote (Canis latrans, bottom photo) passing through a desert kit fox den complex.

Remote cameras captured these images of a bobcat (Lynx rufus, top photo) and a coyote (Canis latrans, bottom photo) passing through a desert kit fox den complex. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

But for now, the season is young and it is still a time when the desert truly gives life, both day and night.

This male desert kit fox looks over his 4 pups on a cool desert evening. Sunset is one of the most active times for desert kit foxes as the adults prepare to leave their den complexes (and their young) for an evening hunt.

This male desert kit fox looks over his 4 pups on a cool desert evening. Sunset is one of the most active times for desert kit foxes as the adults prepare to leave their den complexes (and their young) for an evening hunt. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.

The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory would like to thank Jose Figueroa & David Elms from our Region 6 CDFW office for the wonderful photos captured by remote camera. Remote cameras have been a useful, non-invasive tool for biologists to detect animal presence and monitor the health and physical condition of these desert dwellers. All the photos featured in this story belong to a single mated pair that is being monitored as part of CDFW’s desert kit fox disease monitoring efforts in Riverside County.

Catch & Release: When to Decide if Medical Intervention is Needed During Wildlife Captures

By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid

The Living Desert Zoo publishes an online magazine, FoxPaws. In article 7, issue 2 the zoo writes about an injured desert kit fox that WIL brought into their care last winter.

The Living Desert Zoo publishes an online magazine, FoxPaws. In article 7, issue 2 the zoo writes about an injured desert kit fox that WIL brought into their care last winter.

Studying wildlife on nature’s terms can be difficult. Not only can the weather and topography be uncooperative, but the study species can pose challenges as well. One challenge is deciding if intervention is necessary and appropriate if an animal is found sick or injured.

Here at the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL), we have veterinarians who can help make decisions regarding wild animal care. Deana Clifford, WIL’s non-game veterinarian, is also an epidemiologist and field biologist. With her diverse background in field studies and wildlife medicine, she is able to make important decisions while in the field or here at WIL. However, like many field biologists, she finds herself in remote areas far from home. In these situations, we rely upon local wildlife rehabilitation facilities for their time and care.

The Tennity Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert has partnered with WIL to provide medical treatment for sick or injured desert kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis). The desert kit fox disease monitoring project is ongoing and began in January of 2012 in response to a canine distemper outbreak that occurred at a solar development site in eastern Riverside County. During our January 2012 capture effort, an adult male desert kit fox was suspected to have a broken jaw. The decision for intervention was made by Dr. Clifford, who quickly weighed many factors to decide if the risk associated with temporarily taking this fox out of the wild was mitigated by the benefit that would be gained from treatment.  Key considerations for her decision making included: Was the injury significant enough to affect the fox’s chance of continued survival? Could the cause of the injury be associated with our trapping efforts? Could the injury be fixed allowing the fox to return to normal?

Since this injury could definitely affect the fox’s ability to catch prey and potentially was repairable, we transported the fox to the Living Desert Zoo to confirm whether or not the jaw was broken, and if so, examine options for repair.  Living Desert veterinarian Dr. Kevin Leiske consulted Dr. Yee, a veterinary dentist at Veterinary Dental Specialists, and a treatment plan was set up to care for the young male with the intent to release him back into the wild. After approximately 7 weeks of care, the fox’s jaw had healed. Before release, zoo staff made sure that the fox was able hunt and eat whole prey. In March 2012 he was fitted with a radio collar and then taken back to the site where he was originally captured (under state department regulations, all wild mammals must be released within 3 miles of where they were found).

Not long after release, the fox’s collar went “off-air” and biologists were unable to track him. Despite an extensive ground search by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW, formerly Fish and Game),  biological monitors at the solar site, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and volunteers, we did not find the fox. In October 2012, CDFW took to the sky to listen for his signal, but again was unable to successfully locate this one fox.

In January 2013, our concerns were finally laid to rest when we recaptured this male fox! His jaw is a little bit crooked but he was in good body condition and weight — clearly surviving and doing well back in the wild. We also discovered that his collar had simply malfunctioned and was no longer working.  We then removed the collar and sent this fox back on his way to continue thriving in the wild.

After WIL biologists discovered that the radio collar on this desert kit fox was no longer working, it was removed. Upon his release, he shows his gratitude by offering a unique photo opportunity as he rolls around! Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

After WIL biologists discovered that the radio collar on this desert kit fox was no longer working, it was removed. Upon his release, he offered a unique photo opportunity as he rolled around on the sand – not far from biologists! Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

There is always a risk when an animal has to be removed from the wild, even if it’s just for a few hours or days. Biologists understand this risk and must consider the benefits, if any, to the animal. Knowing the life-history and behavior of the study species is extremely important during the decision-making process.  In this case, a young otherwise healthy male desert kit fox was found to have a potentially life-threatening injury that could be treated with minimal human contact. If we treated his injury and successfully healed the fracture, we felt that his probability of survival was much greater than if we knowingly released him with a broken jaw.

A healed and healthy desert kit fox was recaptured a year after he was found with a broken jaw. While his lower canines protrude a bit, he was in good weight and body condition. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

A healed and healthy desert kit fox was recaptured this winter, one year after he was found with a broken jaw. Trained wildlife biologists are able to use physical restraint rather than chemical immobilization during desert kit fox physical exams. This allows us to quickly conduct exams and take samples without the use of drugs. In this photo CDFW volunteer biologist Teri Baker gently holds the fox while WIL veterinarian Deana Clifford  documents his uniquely new physical feature – slightly protruding lower canines.  This male fox was found to be in good weight and physical condition at the time of recapture. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

WIL would like to sincerely thank Dr. Kevin Leiske, Saldy Portacio, and the rest of the wonderful staff at Living Desert Zoo for generously giving their time and providing care  to the desert kit foxes and other desert wildlife. To read more about how the Living Desert cared for this desert kit fox, go to page 4 of FoxPaws Magazine.

PLEASE NOTE: Only state and federally permitted individuals or organizations can lawfully rehabilitate wildlife. California Code of Regulations section 679 specifically addresses wildlife rehabilitation and has incorporated The Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation written by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) and the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA). To learn more about the permitting process, please follow the link.

Wildlife rehabilitation is a broad and complex field and it is continually evolving and progressing. Continued education is a critical factor when it comes to maintaining a professional knowledge-base at rehabilitation facilities. Because of this, the CDFW requires that all wildlife rehabilitation personnel (professional and volunteer) satisfactorily complete one approved wildlife rehabilitation training session each year. The minimum for these sessions is 2 hours.

Click here for more information on wildlife welfare and rehabilitation and for a complete list of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in California.

Three Bear Cubs Rehabilitated and Released

By Tom Batter, Wildlife Investigations Lab Scientific Aid

How near to good is what is wild!

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking, 1862

Two bear cubs stop to look back after they are released

Two bear cubs stop to look back after they are released. (Photo credit: Jamie Sherman)

The Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) is pleased to announce the rehabilitation and release of three black bear cubs.  Each cub was found orphaned in Southern California and brought to either the WIL care facility or to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC) for rehabilitation.

The three–one male and two females–eventually became united at the WIL care facility in Rancho Cordova. The two females were transferred from LTWC so all three bears could become familiar with one another and be released simultaneously.  WIL staff cared for the bears everyday, cleaning the pens and hiding food in trees and logs to get them used to “searching” for food.

Three bears in their temporary pen at the WIL. We brought in trees and logs to help get them used to foliage they will encounter in their natural habitat. (Photo credit: CDFW WIL)

WIL staff also took precautionary measures so that upon release the bears would retain their natural avoidance behavior of humans. We attached visual barriers to the perimeter of the pens, installed a trail camera in the pen for monitoring the bears, and limited the number of caregivers to a select few, minimizing human-bear interaction. This will give them a greater chance of survival.

They were pleased to be climbing trees again. (Photo credit J. Sherman)

They were pleased to be climbing trees again. (Photo credit: J. Sherman)

Prior to their release, the bears had ear tag radio transmitters attached to each of them. The transmitters have a range of 3-5 miles and can be detected from either the ground or from an airplane. These bears will be monitored continuously to gain knowledge on habitat use, dispersal distances, and reproduction (among other data) post-release.

The bears were released together back into their native home range in Southern California. Special thanks to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care for their hard work and dedication to black bear rehab, as well as Lieutenant Martin Wall, Senior Environmental Scientist Rick Mayfield, Wildlife Environmental Scientist Rebecca Barboza, Capture Specialist Tim Glenner, Scientific Aid David Mollel, and Scientific Aid Jamie Sherman for their assistance with the release.

One of the bears scrambles into its' new stomping grounds. (Photo credit Jamie Sherman)

One of the bears scrambles into its’ new stomping grounds. (Photo credit: J. Sherman)

Taking to the Air to Find Foxes that Live Underground

By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid

A collared desert kit fox just released after receiving a health exam. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

Working in California’s Colorado Desert can be a challenge, especially during the summer. Daytime temperatures can average over 115°F, and the evenings seldom provide relief from the heat. Another characteristic of this low Sonoran desert is that it typically rains during both winter and summer months. The summer rains are monsoonal in nature, sometimes creating severe flash floods. Luckily, the desert flora and fauna have developed physiological and behavioral adaptations that allow them to tolerate and thrive in such an unforgiving landscape. Because these adaptations are specific to desert living, many of these plants and animals are endemic, meaning they occur only in a certain area and no where else in the world.

One such Colorado Desert dweller we have in California is the desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis).  Desert kit foxes are equipped with large ears and long limbs for easy heat dissipation and have developed several behavioral adaptations to tolerate desert climates. One adaptation is crepuscular activity during the hot summer months. Crepuscular animals are most active at sunrise and sunset–the coolest parts of the day. Another behavioral adaptation is burrowing and den building and many desert vertebrates and invertebrates are borrow-dwelling animals.

Look at those temps! A remote camera photographs a radio collared fox in California’s Chuckwalla Valley – part of the Colorado Desert. Here, this fox appears to be entering her den to avoid the 107ºF afternoon. Photo courtesy of David Elms from our Region 6 DFG office.

Kit fox burrows, or dens, can be extremely complex with more than 15 openings that wind and turn in various directions and can be more than six feet deep!  Other dens can be simpler and may just consist of one or two entrances. Kit foxes often build multiple den complexes throughout their home ranges, and will occupy them during various portions of the year. Biologists are still trying to understand when and why kit foxes chose certain areas to create dens, but one thing is for certain, kit foxes display fidelity to the sites they choose for den building. That is, they will continuously return to dens in their home range year after year, or at least visit them periodically to make sure no one else has moved in.

Wildlife biologist and veterinarian, Deana Clifford, listens for collared desert kit foxes using a hand-held antenna (also known as a “yagi”). The antenna is connected to a small, receiver that picks up the unique frequencies assigned to each collar transmitter. Photo courtesy of Jaime Rudd.

For the past year, Deana Clifford, the WIL’s wildlife veterinarian for non-game threatened and endangered species, has been investigating an outbreak of canine distemper virus occurring in desert kit foxes along the I-10 corridor of eastern Riverside County. Since the project began in January 2012, biologists have been monitoring the collared foxes using radio telemetry – a sort of biological hide-and-seek. Typically, biologists can find collared individuals by listening to the unique frequency each collar transmits. The collars our kit foxes are wearing have two settings: active and mortality. A mortality pulses at a faster rate than a normal signal if the animal has not moved for many hours. This allows biologists to locate and retrieve the fox carcass and determine the cause of death in a timely manner. In addition to radio-collars, remote cameras have been placed at kit fox dens allowing biologists to monitor their health and physical condition.

Throughout this past summer, thunderstorms surged through the Colorado Desert, resulting in flash flooding. While it is true that this is not atypical of the desert (as mentioned earlier), it can still cause some disruptions to an animal’s regular pattern of activity. Burrowing animals are especially vulnerable because their homes are susceptible to flooding. Moving to higher ground becomes a necessity to avoid being trapped and new burrows need to be established quickly in order to be protected from predators, competitors and the weather.  It was during this time that several of our collared desert kit foxes seemed to have “disappeared.”

When a collared animal goes “off-air” (meaning they cannot be heard via radio telemetry) and seemingly disappears, it is unnerving. As biologists, we have a responsibility to the safety and well-being of a study animal and we do not want the collar to be the reason for any mishap that may occur in the animals daily activities. Additionally, these animals are part of a disease monitoring collaborative and they provide us with very valuable information. Not being able to find the carcasses means information is lost, which undermines the purpose of this effort. After several unsuccessful attempts to locate the animals on foot, it was decided that what we needed was an eye in the sky. We called upon the professionalism of warden-pilot Tom Evans. With his help, we were able to take to the sky and listen for our “missing” foxes. Thanks to Tom and all of his experience in aerial telemetry, we were able to locate and recover our missing foxes. Amazingly, we were also able to clearly see the large den complexes our missing foxes created – from the sky!

A 2-element antenna affixed to the underside of an airplane wing. Often in radio telemetry the transmitter’s signal (in this case a radio collar) often travels upward, not outward. In flat areas, such as the desert, tracking animals can become difficult because gaining enough height to receive the signal is not always permissible. That is why aerial telemetry is an invaluable aid for biologist. Photo courtesy of WIL biological volunteer, Teri Baker.

You can read about what prompted the initial disease surveillance project by following our DFG News Blog. More about recent work can be found by clicking here.