In the Field with the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study

Imagine sitting in a truck parked alongside a snowy forest edge, playing a round of cribbage while dressed in full winter gear – a cooler of deer sedative wrapped around one arm, a deer blind wrapped around the other – anxiously awaiting a radio call to hop into action. This is how research technicians, Taylor and myself, spent our evening on February 8th as we tagged along to assist crew members trap and collar deer for the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study.

The combination of recent snowfall and prolonged bouts of cold temperatures provided an excellent opportunity to get out in the field and collar deer. These conditions are ideal because they make finding food more difficult; deer have to spend more time foraging and therefore are more likely to visit baited drop nets, one of the methods the study uses for trapping animals.

Crew members preparing to set up the drop net site. Photograph by Caitlin Henning

On our night out with the crew, one study technician sat in a blind proximal to the net and waited for a deer to visit. Meanwhile, we waited patiently roughly a quarter mile away to minimize noise at the site. Once a doe fawn was spotted feeding on the bait, the technician triggered the net to drop and radioed our crew before sprinting to restrain the doe and cover her eyes, reducing potential stress.

Research technicians sedating the doe fawn. Photograph by Caitlin Henning

In a burst of chaos, we quickly grabbed the equipment, hopped in the UTV, and sped to the net site. Upon arrival, a sedative was quickly applied. Once the doe was immobilized, we fit a GPS collar and applied ear tags, collected a genetic sample and a sample to test for CWD, and performed a series of body measurements. Throughout the process the doe was positioned on her sternum to maintain regular bodily functions and receive oxygen. We monitored her vitals routinely to ensure her safety and well-being. Upon completing these tasks, the sedation was reversed and we watched from a distance to make sure the doe woke up and was able to walk away safely.

Snapshot Wisconsin research technicians Sarah Cameron and Taylor Peltier. Photograph by Caitlin Henning

As of February, this project had collared 91 fawns, 263 deer, 21 bobcats, and 39 coyotes with the help of 174 volunteer landowners. Getting out in the field is an experience we would strongly recommend to anyone. If you’re in Wisconsin, you can explore opportunities to volunteer on WDNR projects near you!

Curious to learn more about the CWD, Deer and Predator study? Check out Caitlin Henning’s featured blog post, or visit the WDNR project webpage. Keep an eye out for these collared critters from Dane, Grant, and Iowa counties on our Snapshot Wisconsin Zooniverse site.

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