|Figure 1. Enjoying some personal time with our educational bear skull.|
Spring 2018 internship at a not-for-profit wildlife organization
Every forest tells a story whether or not you’re listening, or smelling. Little would you know, but animals use the same trails as us to tell stories to others ranging from: finding a new mate, expressing their ovulation levels, to marking their territory. This semester I worked with, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating local communities on wildlife tracking skills. Additionally, the organization is aimed at training people in scientific protocols needed to monitor, record, and detect wildlife tracks to monitor the status of wildlife in their communities and trains all individuals from elementary school kids, to college students, and even to professional ecologists. Their training covers tracking, scent marking, identification, habitat types, and sign location. Using data from trained teams, land trusts, local boards, and agency officials are able to conserve more biologically critical habitats.
This semester, I assisted in dictating new camera trap locations as well as serving as an assistant on training trips. Setting up camera traps helped me enhance my scent marking and tracking skills, since we would often search for repeatedly marked trees or vegetation (i.e. caves for Bobcats, absorbent leaf litter for Fisher Cats, Yellow Birch for bears). One of the most frequently visited sites was where bobcats have been recorded for the past few years. Figures 2 and 3 give a good demonstration of a bobcat scent marking a camera on the Saint Michael's College Campus. Other forms of scent marking that bobcats will take part in will include spraying, scraping, or defecating.
Rocky ledge locations are prime sites for scent marking since the scents can be absorbed into the rock or decaying organic material, and the overhang rock protects the scent from the elements. Within a felid’s olfactory mucosa there are some 200 million odor-detecting receptor cells, which allows these cats to detect scents for months at a time. By scent-marking, cats and other animals alike are able to leave messages/love letters all across the forest for others.
Now it is just up to us if we want to slow down and try to understand these messages and the complex relationships they make up within the forest.