Who wouldn’t want to chase elk around with firecrackers in hand?

November 30, 2010

Today I read a study (Kloppers et al 2005) entitled

Predator-resembling aversive conditioning for managing habituated elk.

It seems that the authors had difficulties choosing words less than 8 letters long in their title, beside their subject species of course. Ignoring the XL words, the study was interesting because I pretty much thought it would be a freaking sweet study to work on as a field tech. The idea was to induce the flight reflex in elk that were hanging around the Banff townsite eating ornamental shrubs and playing a round or two on the golf course in winter. In doing so, the researchers hoped to lessen the impacts that hundreds of almost tame, but fairly worthless elk (I don’t think you get oxytocin by attempting to pet an elk) have on a small town.

The researchers collared 24 elk and put them into three categories. Eight elk were in the control group and the researchers just stood about 50 m away from them periodically throughout the winter. The next eight were in the human treatment, and this is where is gets fun, and field techs periodically chased them with firecrackers in hand for about a kilometer (remember this is Canada and they believe in the metric system). The third group was treated with dogs. Border collies (apparently other dogs barked too much and elk reacted by fighting rather than flighting) herded the elk away from the town on command from their handler.

In the latter part of the winter, the scientists measured the distance at which the elk would run away from approaching humans, the amount of time the elk were vigilant or actively assessing the surrounding area and the proximity of the elk to the town site and compared the data to measurements from the period prior to treatment. They found that the treatments did seem to work in that the treated elk ran from approaching humans sooner and spent more time away from the town than the control group. They also found that the elk didn’t run as fast or as far when wolves were more abundant in the area, which makes sense since wolves actually kill elk while field techs and border collies get their jollies from just chasing them.

Therefore, the researchers recommended that managers sporadically run after elk as though their pants are on fire and that efforts should be stepped up in areas where wolves are present.

This is good news for me. Wolves generally live in cool places and someday, some wildlife agency in one of those cool places is going to need elk chasers. I think that is a job at which I could excel.

This guy doesn't need firecrackers. He has canines. Maybe he is using them to chomp some habituated elk near Mammoth Hot Springs.

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