Almost all ecologists working on animals are interested in wild animals – the wilder, the better. But how do we actually study animals which cannot be approached, are difficult to find, dangerous or live in inaccessible areas?
Up to now I was not very concerned about this, as I was working at first with plants, then with livestock and spiders. All those are quite easy to handle, but that is by far not the case for all animals. To capture and study most animals brings more difficult and often more risky conditions for the animals as well as for the human studying them.
Technology has opened some windows for us to a hidden world: By attaching VHF, GPS and even cameras to animals we can get a small insight into their concealed lives. For example, we can find out about movement patterns, home range and habitat selection of animals which we barely ever are able to observe in the wild.
But to get all those data, we somehow have to attach the measuring device to the animal. How can we do this in an effective and ethical way? How much should those individuals pay for the research we want to conduct on populations? When should we decide, to just let go of an animal and to do without the results we were aiming for?
There are so many things we have to think about while handling wildlife, which are neither «standard» considerations for most veterinarians, nor ecologists. We were lucky in the past week to have the opportunity here at HINN Evenstad to be in a mixed group of people with very different knowledge and backgrounds, learning about and practicing captures and immobilization of wildlife.
The focus of the course were scandinavian mammals, but after this week we also have more ideas for any species, which questions to ask and where to look for the information we need when working with a particular species.
For me, as my background (landscape ecology, botany) is quite far from veterinarian medicine, many topics were completely new to me, but very relevant as well. We heard from different researchers about diseases, risks, «how-to’s» and even more «how-not-to’s». They all shared beside their knowledge also personal experiences with us.
One exciting part of the course were the practical sessions: preparing and shooting darts, immobilizing llamas and moose and necropsy of roe deer and badger.
While those things are maybe more «normal» to do for a veterinary student, for me they are clearly far from routine. Even though most of ecological research is based on those methods.
Now we all go tired (either from a bit of anesthesia or from a long week of studying) in the weekend and «go back home», especially for the ones who came from abroad for this course.
It’s great to «leave home» sometimes, also in terms of the study-subject. I will return to my spiders now and keep going with my thesis after being occupied with moose and other large animals for the last couple of days.
And why not go for a walk together with a llama in the first snow ? 😉
Ha det bra,