Big Game


  • Bears in Big South Fork: A Spatially Explicit Density Estimate of a Reintroduced Population*
  • Joshua David Alston
    Black bears (Ursus americanus) were extirpated from the Cumberland Plateau in the late 19th century due to habitat loss and overharvest. Fourteen female black bears with 16 cubs were reintroduced into Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (BSF) in 1996 and 1997. In 2010 and 2012, populations were estimated in Kentucky and Tennessee resulting in estimates of 38 and 190 bears respectively, representing an 18.3% annual population growth rate since reintroduction. Since that time, the population may have further increased and expanded its range. Our objectives are to obtain estimates of black bear population size, density, and population growth in and adjacent to BSF and to evaluate use of spatial covariates in predicting population density in unsampled heterogeneous areas. A total of 440 hair snares were constructed in a 3×3 clustered design with traps spaced 2-km apart within each cluster and 16-km between cluster centers. Snares consisted of 2 strands of barbed wire strung around 3-5 trees to create a roughly 25 m2 enclosure. Donuts for bait and a sweet-smelling scent lure were suspended from the center of the snares. Hair was collected weekly from each snare over a 6-week sampling period beginning June 24, 2019. Samples were comprised of all hairs on a single barb. The strand and barb number were recorded for use in a subsampling protocol. After hair collection barbed wire was burned to remove any uncollectable genetic material from the week prior. Collected samples were sent to Wildlife Genetics International (WGI) for individual identification of bears using 9 microsatellite markers including a sex marker. Genotype data will be used to create individual detection histories, and spatially explicit methods in R package secr will be used to estimate movement parameters based on captures and recaptures of individuals across time and space during the sampling period.

  • Population Density and Survival Rate Estimates of Elk in East Tennessee*
  • Katherine A. Kurth; Eryn M. Watson; Dailee L. Metts; Brad F. Miller; Richard W. Gerhold; Dana J. Morin; Lisa I. Muller
    Between 2000 and 2008, 201 Manitoban elk (Cervus canadensis manitobensis) were reintroduced to the 79,318 ha North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (NCWMA) in East Tennessee. Population growth estimates of NCWMA elk are below initial projections, warranting current and accurate population research. We are using DNA microsatellites extracted from fecal samples and GPS collared elk to estimate density and annual survival rates of the NCWMA elk population. We collected fecal samples (n=357) using a clustered sampling design across 68 designated collection areas, primarily composed of wildlife openings. Collection took place weekly within the NCWMA from February through April 2019. Fecal samples were analyzed by Wildlife Genetics International (Nelson, British Columbia, Canada) using 16 microsatellites with sex determination. From the 157 successfully genotyped fecal samples, we identified 85 individuals (21 males and 64 females). We will estimate population density utilizing data from genetically identified individuals using a multi-session sex structured spatial capture-recapture model using the oSCR package in R. In addition, we collared 29 elk in 2019 and 2020, comprised of 8 males and 21 females. We have documented 5 collared elk mortalities which include 2 suspect meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis) associated disease, 1 poaching incident, 1 vehicle collision, and 1 legal harvest. We will use a known-fate model using the RMARK package to access Program MARK to evaluate yearly survival rates and the influence of sex and season on survival. Evaluating elk population density, survival rates, and causes of mortality to the population will allow for the identification of targeted management practices for increasing population growth and sustainability of NCWMA elk.

  • Disparity in Elk Behaviour Following Different Migratory Tactics on a Sympatric Winter Range*
  • Madeline Trottier; Mark Hebblewhite; Evelyn Merrill
    The partially migratory Ya Ha Tinda (YHT) elk herd (Cervus canadensis) in Alberta exhibits a western migration to montane summer ranges in Banff National Park, while resident elk remain on the sympatric winter range year-round. In recent years, a new migratory tactic emerged moving to industrial forest lands east of YHT. Previous studies have shown that despite high spatial overlap, western migrants showed different vigilance patterns in areas of human and predation risk than resident elk, which was attributed to differential exposure to predators and humans during the summer. We documented the foraging, vigilance, and grouping behaviors of GPS-collared elk following these three migratory tactics on the winter range in 2019 and 2020. We predicted that the new eastern migrants will exhibit higher vigilance than other tactics due to less predictable levels of human disturbance on the summer range east of YHT. We examined home-range overlap between migratory tactics using GPS data during the winters of 2018 and 2019, in addition to recording direct observations of foraging and vigilance of focal elk of each tactic relative to forage biomass, predation risk, and position in the herd. Preliminary results indicate high home-range overlap among all three migratory tactics, but significantly higher vigilance during foraging between eastern migrants (19.2 ± 2.5% total observation time) and residents (16.5 ± 1.6% total observation) across both years. Group sizes, snow and position within the herd best explained variance in vigilance. We discuss the implications of differences on anti-predator behaviors on winter foraging constraints among migratory tactics.

  • Survival, Cause-Specific Mortality, and Blood Profiles of Elk Calves in Kentucky*
  • Kathleen E. Williams; Nathan D. Hooven; Gabriel Jenkins; Kyle Sams; Jonathan L. Fusaro; Joseph R. McDermott; R. Daniel Crank; Christine Casey; John Hast; Matthew T. Springer; John J. Cox
    Since the reintroduction of elk (Cervus canadensis) in 1997-2002, Kentucky’s elk herd has grown to be the largest population in the Eastern US. However, most of the research on this population’s vital rates was completed before elk were fully established and must be updated to reflect the current population. Neonate survival estimates are particularly important to understanding ungulate population growth dynamics, prompting us to provide an updated estimate of the survival rate of the youngest age class. In winters 2020 – 2021, 50 cow elk will be fitted with Vectronics Natal-Linked GPS collars and vaginal implant transmitters (VITs) across the 16-county Elk Restoration Zone in southeastern Kentucky. Using locations from expelled VITs, we will capture and deploy expandable collars on elk neonates in the summers of 2020-2021 and will monitor their movement and survival to one year of age. All cow and calf mortalities will be investigated, and cause of death will be determined via field necropsy, carcass condition, and genetic analysis of predator saliva collected from the carcass using swabs. During neonate capture, we will collect blood samples for hematological and serological analyses to identify any relationships between blood parameters, morphometrics, and survival. We will also identify any relationships between blood parameters and the calf’s cortisol levels, analyzed from hair samples collected at capture. These analyses will begin to provide a baseline of health and nutrition which has never been reported for free-ranging elk neonates. Additionally, these parameters could provide indirect information on the health of cows in the elk population during late gestation leading up to parturition. Information regarding health of individuals, and ultimately survival and incorporation of the youngest age class into the huntable population, is crucial to the development of management decisions concerning habitat improvement and harvest regulations.

  • Determining Mammal Diversity on Fragmented Nature Reserves in South Africa*
  • Ian A. Mack II; Jeff Breeden; Thomas W. Schwertner; Hemanta Kafley; Heather Mathewson
    Nature Reserves in South Africa are severely fragmented, resulting in numerous isolated local populations of animals. The local communities depend on these nature reserves and their mammalian diversity for ecological and economic gains. Our study was conducted on Hans Merensky and Vygeboom Nature Reserves in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The Balepye community manages these nature reserves and are reliant on the reserves’ ecological diversity to attract prospective big game hunters and tourists. Activities on and around the reserves result in increased wages and sustainable livelihood opportunities for local community members. Accurate and current wildlife data is lacking on many reserves in South Africa, including Hans Merensky and Vygeboom Nature Reserves. Understanding current mammal diversity on these reserves is crucial for furthering conservation and successful management of wildlife species, including leopard and mesocarnivore populations. To further our understanding of mammal diversity on these reserves, we deployed paired game cameras in 4-km2 grids covering the entirety of our study sites. Vegetation surveys were conducted using transects 50 m from a specific camera location in each grid to classify vegetation type and structure. We are currently analyzing game camera photographs and vegetation data to determine current mammal diversity on these properties. We anticipate overall mammal diversity will differ between the two properties and vegetation types. Understanding local scale mammal diversity is a crucial component that will further our understanding of leopard and mesocarnivore populations on the reserves. It will also allow future researchers to study the impact of various management practices on the reserves, including reintroducing lions and other historically present species that are locally extirpated from these areas.

  • Abiotic Factors Influencing Pronghorn Recruitment in Southern Idaho for 33 Years
  • Pat A. Terletzky; Eric M. Gese; Cole Bleke
    Population dynamics of prey species has been investigated for decades, yet determining what factor(s) limits or regulates a prey population remains uncertain. While abiotic factors such as temperature and precipitation may act alone, they may interact with each other in a variety of combinations. Our objective was to identify what abiotic factors influenced pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) fawn recruitment in 14 management areas (study sites) in southern Idaho from 1984-2017. We obtained fawn:doe ratio data from Idaho Department of Fish and Game managers, while the abiotic data (temperature, precipitation, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index [NDVI]) were obtained from Google Earth Engine. A spring weather severity index was calculated from the temperature and precipitation data. We examined abiotic variables at sequential blocks of time (15, 30, 45, and 60 days) pre- and post-parturition and for the fall prior to parturition. The relationships between fawn recruitment and temperature, precipitation, and NDVI were examined using linear mixed models with the study site as the random variable. We used hierarchical modeling by comparing all univariate models for all time periods for each abiotic feature. Bayesian Information Criteria (BIC) was used to determine rank for each model, including the null model, within each abiotic feature. All variables with a BIC weight > 0.10 from the univariate model comparison were then incorporated into multiple variable models, although variables that were correlated were not included in the same model. The variability of the minimum temperatures prior to parturition and the amount and variability of precipitation in the fall prior to parturition greatly influenced fawn recruitment. As indicated in prior research, climate appears to be the main driver on the status of the doe while pregnant, thereby greatly influencing fawn recruitment.

  • Utilization of Specific Crop Type and Phenological Growth Stage by Mule Deer in a Fragmented Landscape*
  • Joshua P. Vasquez; Levi J. Heffelfinger; David G. Hewitt; Shawn S. Gray; Warren C. Conway; Timothy E. Fulbright; Randy W. DeYoung; Louis A. Harveson
    In recent history, the increased demand for agriculture production has led to a shift in land cover from native rangeland to row crop farming. Research to better understand how species-specific interactions are affected by row crops will be beneficial for conservation and management of populations occupying these fragmented landscapes. Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations in the Texas Panhandle occur throughout an area of extensive agricultural land use. Mule deer have been intensively monitored; however, little is known about utilization of specific crop type and growth stage. We collected multi-year movement (via GPS collars) from 83 males and 86 females throughout 3 study sites in the Texas Panhandle. During our study period (January 2018-October 2019) crop type and growth stage in crop fields were monitored monthly in areas collared deer occupied. Our objectives were to assess what agricultural attributes affect mule deer space use associated with agriculture. Previous data from the Panhandle region indicate little use of crops, accumulating only 3-14% utilization relative to other land cover types. Although overall crop use was relatively low, preliminary data indicates high use of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) during the early growth stages associated with winter months (Dec.-Feb.). The Panhandle region has a suite of varying crop species available to mule deer, however, specific crop species use by mule deer is to be determined. With our data we will be able to assess how different crop types and phenology affect mule deer foraging behavior seasonally. By understanding seasonal foraging preference, we can better predict mule deer distribution patterns, implications to nutritional status, and potential human conflict. Our data will enhance knowledge of mule deer biology, inform management decisions by state agencies, and better inform private land owners in an area of high anthropogenic influence.

  • Long-Term Use of Three Wildlife Underpasses by American Black Bears
  • Colleen Olfenbuttel; Travis Wilson; Rachael E. Urbanek
    In 2005, a new 19.3 km section of U.S. Highway 64 in Washington County, North Carolina, USA, was completed. The new 4-lane divided highway section cut through high-quality black bear (Ursus americanus) habitat with a dense bear population. To reduce impacts on the bear population and increase diver safety, 3 wildlife underpasses were incorporated into this section. Three-meter-high chain link fence extended a minimum of 800 m from each underpass in both directions and parallel to the highway. University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK), in collaboration with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), conducted a study on the impacts of this highway on bear ecology. UTK found that bear population abundance declined after the new highway was built, likely due to mortality from vehicle collisions, habitat loss and fragmentation, and displacement. However, gene flow was not impacted, likely due to the mitigating factors of the wildlife underpasses. Using cameras, each underpass was monitored for wildlife use for 1 year after highway construction. Bears used all 3 underpasses, but use was limited to 10 bears on 17 occasions. UTK recommended that a follow-up survey be conducted to see if bear use of the underpasses increased over time. Starting in November 2019, a total of 11 cameras were placed at the three underpasses. In addition, 1 camera was placed at 15 gaps found in the fencing to document wildlife use. We will have results to present by August 2020 that will determine if and how bear use of the underpasses changed over time. Our results will also provide recommendations for maintaining and improving fencing and managing vegetation in and around underpasses. Our study will show the importance of continued monitoring of highway wildlife passages to determine long-term effectiveness and maintenance needs.

  • Effects of Wolves on Elk Habitat Use in Wisconsin*
  • Jennifer L. Merems; Anna Brose; Shawn M. Crimmins; Jennifer L. Price Tack; Tim R. Van Deelen
    In systems where they co-occur, predation by wolves (Canis lupus) can be an important driver of elk (Cervus canadensis) population dynamics and habitat use. Most studies on the impacts of wolves on elk come from western North America, where elk populations have long been established and predator-prey communities are more diverse. In the Great Lakes region, effects of wolves on elk are poorly understood due to a relatively small number of established elk herds existing with wolves. Because wolf densities tend to be much higher than those in western regions, wolves may have an increased capacity to limit elk movement on the landscape. In this study, we sought to identify the environmental variables elk are selecting and understand the degree to which predation risk influences habitat use in northern Wisconsin. This information is a stepping-stone for further research into identifying the quality and quantity of forage available in areas heavily used by elk. This will allow us to determine whether wolves are displacing elk from high quality habitats and how that may impact elk populations.

  • Examining Translocation Protocols of Reintroduced Elk Herds in the Eastern United States
  • Amber L. Evans; John W. Edwards; Christopher W. Ryan; Christopher T. Rota; Michael P. Strager
    Since the extirpation of elk (Cervus canadensis) in eastern North America, successful reintroductions have occurred in 12 eastern states and one Canadian province. The translocation process can cause high stress levels for individuals, which can then influence survival and long-term success in an establishing population. Differences in capture techniques, handling time, and even source population may influence results of a reintroduction program. From 2016 to 2018, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reintroduced over 70 elk to the southern coal field region of the state. Elk were exposed to different protocols in each of three translocation efforts in West Virginia. Such circumstances where individuals within the same population were exposed to different translocation protocols provided a unique opportunity to query the translocation process to enhance future translocations. Moreover, we compared West Virginia’s elk reintroduction program to recent elk reintroduction efforts in other states. Key factors of the translocation process, such as capture techniques, estimated handling time, total time in holding, breeding activity, reproductive success, and mortality information, are compared within and across eastern elk herds. We compared summary statistics, where applicable, to examine trends in that positively and negatively impacted survival and behavior of reintroduced individuals. The resulting information will assist managers in designing protocols to increase the probability of success in future elk translocations in West Virginia and other states.

  • Heat Induced Behavioral Adaptations in a Wild Ruminant and the Potential for Competition with Cattle*
  • Jacob L. Dykes; Randy W. DeYoung; Timothy E. Fulbright; David G. Hewitt; Charles A. DeYoung; J. A. Ortega-S; Aaron M. Foley; Tyler A. Campbell
    Endotherms commonly experience heat stress. Thus, invoking adaptive behaviors to mitigate heat stress is imperative. Physiological responses are often more costly than simply modifying one’s behavior by seeking shade, exploiting wind, or altering activity patterns. However, behavioral changes could lead to competition with other species. We monitored GPS collared white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and cattle (30 deer, 10 cattle) on the East Foundation’s El Sauz Ranch in South Texas during spring 2019. Collars recorded animal location at 30-minute intervals. In addition, we deployed 100 black-globe thermometers across the landscape to monitor the thermal environment. We will use animal GPS data and operative temperature in resource selection models to evaluate the effects of heat stress on deer and cattle movement and resource selection. Also, we will assess the effect of heat on spatial and temporal overlap between deer and cattle across the landscape. Knowledge of deer and cattle movement, resource selection, and competition for thermal cover will further our understanding of how heat affects these species and which landscape characteristics help mitigate heat stress. The results of this study will give managers the knowledge needed to design habitat management and cattle-grazing regimes that may assist in mitigating the effects of heat stress on deer and cattle.


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