Tips for wildlife sleuths
There are several ways to help identify animals in the Northwoods
BY THE MASKED BIOLOGIST
Special to the Star Journal
The arrival of spring has triggered the movement of many kinds of resident and migratory wildlife. I have had reports of people seeing bears, wolves, deer, moose, and even cougars in the last week. I never tell people what they did or did not see; however, since I was not with the person reporting the observation, I need to rely on the evidence. I can’t be everywhere at once, so you can help if you think you have an observation worth reporting or that needs verification by a professional.
Sightings of animals are the most common report I receive, but if I don’t get an accurate report of the location, or a photo of the sighting, it is difficult for a biologist to verify. If you go out in the woods, try to take a camera with you. The camera-phone has helped greatly, as has the digital photo revolution for regular cameras and motion-sensing trail cameras. If you see gray wolf, cougar, Canada lynx, moose, or American marten (or any other rare or unusual animal) take a photo of the animal if possible. Take a photo of the track or droppings with some kind of size reference next to it. I have used a pen, a business card, or a multi-tool placed on the ground nearby. If you have cooperative conditions, like snow or mud, try to take a photo not only of one track, but looking down the track line. The animal’s foot placement, or gait, can tell us a lot. If you have what you feel is a clear footprint, protect it if at all possible. Place a coffee can, bucket, or other container upside down over it until you can take a photo or contact your local wildlife manager.
Accurate location, date, and time information is also important. IF you want a professional to come and check the location, having a familiar landmark is very helpful. A road intersection, rural fire number of nearest driveway, or road sign are good examples. A GPS location works great, if you can provide it. Last week I had three reliable moose observation reports from outside Tomahawk, Rhinelander, and Minocqua. If I get reliable information, I can sometimes track the animal and determine if it is one mobile individual or if there were two or three different animals in these locations. You are always welcome to post photos of animals or tracks on my Facebook page, but remember once you do so, that is a public page and I may use the photos again (with your credit) in future posts or articles.
Biological samples, such as droppings, hair samples, other body parts, or remains of prey species can provide valuable information. If you call with details about a dead animal, I may be able to tell you something about what killed it. If you collect biological samples for a wildlife biologist, gather them in air-proof containers and avoid any skin contact (to reduce contamination). There are tests for animal hair to determine source animal and possibly genetic origins, depending on the circumstances. There are also new developments in DNA sampling that can provide interesting information about animals, and new tests that can tell us in some cases what that animal ate prior to death.
Tracks, droppings and animal behavior can be very enlightening, so keep your eyes peeled and see what you can learn. Remember, I am only an email or Facebook post away!
The Masked Biologist earned a Bachelor of Science degree from a university with a highly regarded wildlife biology program. His work in natural resource agencies across the country provided opportunities to gain experience with a variety of common and rare fish, plant and wildlife species. Follow The Masked Biologist on Facebook. Email questions to MaskedBiologist@charter.net.