Saturday, March 27, 2010

27 March 2010

Carrie called me the other night and said "Can you hear that?" I listened carefully. Very faintly, I could hear static and the familiar beeping of a radio collar signal on a receiver. I said "Yes, where are you?" "That's Jack's signal! I'm on the park."
Obviously I'm confused at this point. We were just told hours earlier that Jack, a male collared coyote, had been shot in Ohio over the weekend. But that couldn't be Jack's signal.
I told Carrie that ten years ago a hunter tried to tell me he shot three coyotes on Presque Isle during deer season. (This would have been illegal, of course, because coyotes are protected on Presque Isle.) It obviously drove me crazy, until rumor flew around so much that finally I found out who the prankster was, and confronted him face to face.
But my hopes for trickery were dashed when Carrie explained that, no, it had been the collared female's signal that had disappeared only a few weeks ago. I had hoped that the female was preparing her den and maybe Carrie wasn't getting a signal because she was underground. But the way things were sounding, it was the interior resident female who is now lost to us.
I must say I am very impressed with the individual who shot the coyote. Not for his trophy, but rather for his honesty. He bothered to call Edinboro University's phone number that is listed on the collar. Today, we make that journey to collect the collar and to trade stories about the coyote research for his experience of hunting them on his property.
This is one of the main stumbling blocks of doing radio telemetry with coyotes. They are protected in very few places. And like any wild animal, they don't recognize our boundaries--they regularly go in and out from the area where they are protected into the vast area where they are not. In Pennsylvania, a hunter can shoot as many coyotes as he wants any day of the week (with the proper license, of course). So this makes keeping your research animals alive more a game of chance than prevention. All in all, though, an entire year of data is far beyond anything we have had on Presque Isle's coyotes yet. I'm hoping that "Jack" now decides to stay.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

24 March 2010

Working with wild animals seems, from the outside, to be an exciting and exhillarating thing to do. Obtaining the initial permit ten years ago to trap and radio collar coyotes on the peninsula took an entire year. Red tape, upon rejection upon doors being slammed, and "no, no, no!" fell on deaf ears, and blind eyes. I would not take no for an answer, and I still don't.
When Carrie applied for her trapping permit, things went much more smoothly the second time around. I was so excited that this project was again moving forward; wondering what could be learned this time. For there is very little information known about wild Eastern coyotes. Little field work has been done on them.
Last year, with extreme difficulty, we were able to trap two coyotes despite the immense amount of snow we received. Our first coyote trapped this time around was a male near the Stull Interpretive Center. He was an average sized animal--nothing remarkable about his appearance.
Telemetry is a remarkable thing. It lets you monitor an individual animal from a distance. If you are lucky, signals from three different locations allow you to pinpoint the coyote's location. A tremendous amount of information can be collected from just knowing where the animal is spending his time.
So as a field biologist, you spend a lot of time walking around in search of your collared animals. You begin to wonder what exactly they are up to the moment you hear the "beep, beep, beep" on the receiver. All this work carries over into your daily life, and you begin to wonder at other times what your research animals are doing. Just like a parent wondering when their teenagers will come home at night.
Upon the initial release from trapping an animal, I worry about the 48 hour acclimation period. A free, wild animal now has something foreign around its neck and getting used to it takes some time. Many animals spend an excessive amount of time grooming themselves. Can you blame them? They have to get the human stink off somehow! Once an individual passes this acclimation period, most carry on as usual.
Part of radiotelemetry and biology in general is to not become attached to your research animals. Well, you might as well tell a colony of ants to ignore that ice cream cone that just smashed on the sidewalk. Perhaps if I were researching snails it would be different. But coyotes? They look just like a dog! Beautiful, intelligent, and mysterious. When handling these animals, it is clear there is something going on behind their striking eyes. I cannot explain it--I just know there is sentience there. The coyote demands respect. They are highly adaptable--and therin is the key to the coyote's success. And his greatest downfall.
Because these animals are so smart, people take great pleasure and pride in hunting them. Should we or shouldn't we is another matter entirely; and I certainly have my own private opinion about this practice. But when it's your animal that is shot, when it is your coyote, the one you caught, the one you got to know, the one that took ever so long to catch and radiocollar--it's a different story entirely.
"Jack" -- as he was known between just Carrie and I -- was shot along with his mate in Ohio this past weekend. It's hard to know how to feel. Angry. Frustrated. Dissapointed. Sad. Sure, all those mixed together create an ugly feeling inside. You wonder the exact details, which can never be known. Why did this happen? All that work has now ended--quite abrubtly and with great suprise and sadness.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We have been formally approved to provide Act 48 Credit to Northwest Tri County Intermediate Unit #5 Science Teachers! On Tuesday, April 13th, Tracy and Ben will give a lecture on coyotes at IU#5 in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
This is a wonderful step forward in our efforts to produce a documentary film on coyotes at Presque Isle State Park. Our working partnerships are what will make this project succeed and help educate area students, adults and tourists not only about coyotes, but scientific research, too.
We have spent over ten years working directly and indirectly with coyotes. From our company's beginning in 1999 we have in major and minor ways kept a finger on the pulse of this wild Canine. I filmed my first coyote on May 1st, 1999 and since then it has been an addiction that cannot be quenched. I produced a short film on Presque Isle coyotes as an undergraduate student, filmed them in Yellowstone National Park as a graduate student, and trapped and radio collared them in 2000 and 2009 on Presque Isle. We hope that the telemetry side will continue as a long term research project.
We are optimistic that our presentation at IU#5 will recruit teachers who will help write science curricula that will accompany our theatrical release in 2012. With educational curricula written, this production has a high educational value!