Sarah Weiskopf places third at the National Wildlife Society Meeting

October 28, 2013 under CANR News

Sarah Weiskopf and Shannon Kachel present their posterSarah Weiskopf, an honors student in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), presented her poster earlier this month at the National Wildlife Society Meeting in Milwaukee, WI.

The poster, titled, “What do snow leopards really eat? Using genetics to reduce bias in food habit studies,” placed third place at the conference amongst undergraduate presenters.

Weiskopf is completing her senior thesis in Kyle McCarthy’s Rare and Elusive Species Lab, where she works closely with Shannon Kachel, graduate student in ENWC, on snow leopard ecology.

As for the specifics of her research, Weiskopf explained that knowing what snow leopards—an endangered species that live high in the mountain areas of central Asia–eat is critical to their survival. “One of the reasons they’re endangered is lack of natural prey species so it’s really important to have accurate information on what they’re eating for management plans and conservation initiatives.”

Weiskopf, who is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR program, and the ENWC department and works with data from Panthera– a global wild cat conservation group–and samples collected by Kachel, said that their research found that snow leopards’ diet consists mainly of large mammals. “When we looked at all the samples that we collected, we found that small mammals like hares and Pikas were not as important in snow leopard diet as we previously thought, and they were actually eating a lot more large mammals like Ibex and Argali.”

The problem with the snow leopards’ diet consisting mainly of these two species is that they are both in danger as well, with both being targets of hunting and poaching and Argali being classified as an endangered species.

“They’re competing with domestic livestock for the food resources in the area and so when you have less natural Ibex and Argali populations, the snow leopards will turn more to eating domestic livestock which creates problems with humans in the area,” said Weiskopf.

Weiskopf said that she is very thankful that she gets to work with Kachel and McCarthy, assistant professor in ENWC, on the project, saying that they both have been very supportive and helpful, even allowing her to work in the lab on her own which she said was a great learning experience.

She also said that the conference was a great experience because she got to listen to a lot of wildlife biologists talk about their respective projects and had the opportunity to present her own work.

As for her work with snow leopards, Weiskopf said that if she continues to study the species, she would love the opportunity to travel to central Asia to study them in the wild, something she might not have known about herself had she not gotten this opportunity.

“It wasn’t something that I thought about before. I didn’t think, ‘Oh, I really want to study snow leopards’ but it was definitely a really cool project to get involved in.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD graduate student studies snow leopard population in Tajikistan

December 19, 2012 under CANR News

snow leopard in TajikistanAs he lay in a bathtub, seeking shelter from the barrage of mortar attacks just outside his building, Shannon Kachel realized that his summer of studying snow leopards, ibex and Marco Polo sheep in the desolate mountains ranges of Asia was over.

Spending the season in the Pamir Mountains region of Tajikistan to study wild ungulate -– or hooved mammals — and snow leopards to determine all the variables surrounding the species and possibly get an idea about their population sizes, Kachel, a University of Delaware graduate student working with Kyle McCarthy in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, went into the city of Khorog to resupply for the final month of research and found himself caught in the middle of a fight between the Tajikistan central government forces and what the government deemed was an illegally armed group.

Kachel said that he wanted to stay and continue with his research but he knew that he had to leave.

“I would have stayed because my read of the situation was that it was going to get better,” said Kachel. “But I don’t know that I would have gotten anything done.”

Luckily for Kachel, he had already set up enough cameras in the region – cameras designed to record the movement of the various animals — that he was confident he had enough material for his study.

Researching two distinct areas of the Pamirs, Kachel placed one set of cameras in a location where the government allows trophy hunting of wild ungulates while informally managing the population for sustainability.

He also set up cameras in a section where it is illegal to hunt the animals and where there is no regulation of the species, but where poaching and overgrazing still threaten the wildlife.

“What I’m doing is comparing those two sites, one for the availability of the ungulate prey, but then the snow leopard populations, as well,” said Kachel.

While hunting and poaching is a concern, with the snow leopard population number dropping precipitously over recent decades, Kachel stressed that his research is looking more at the impact pastoral communities have on the species.

“A lot of that population loss results from the typical poaching pressures that we think of from people going out and killing big cats but a bigger component is competition with pastoral people,” said Kachel.

He explained that as external government food subsidies dried up with the fall of the Soviet Union, it left an artificially high human population in the area based on what the environment could support. In this high and desolate region of the world, the people turned to livestock production and the killing of wild ungulates in order to sustain themselves.

snow leopard“The component that I’m addressing is more from the ecological perspective,” said Kachel. “The other side of having all these livestock on the landscape is that it reduces the amount of natural prey that’s available for snow leopards and it gets rid of all the forage available for, specifically in my study area, the ibex and the Marco Polo sheep.”

Thanks to funding from Panthera, a global wild cat conservation group, and help from the Tajik Academy of Sciences, Kachel spent June and July traversing the rugged terrain and eventually getting close to 80 cameras set up in an area about half the size of the state of Delaware. “We were hiking around a lot,” said Kachel. “Huffing and puffing in that high mountain air.”

He explained that the cameras “work based on heat and motion. So an animal that’s a different temperature from the background walks by and the camera starts shooting pictures.” Kachel said that since they used two different types of cameras for the study, they put out lures with the cameras to draw in the animals.

“Because the cameras function differently, we needed to make sure that any animal passing by was present long enough to get clear images,” said Kachel. “So we used the lure to draw them in and hold their attention. We need clear images so we can identify the individual cats.”

Kachel explained that he did this because “snow leopards are individually identifiable based on their spots, so we can use our observations of when, where, and how frequently individuals are caught by the cameras to build better population estimates that tell us more than a simple minimum count.”

The cameras, which were retrieved by a Tajik man once the violence ended, have already caught pictures of two snow leopard cubs, and were highlighted by Reuters and inBusiness Insider.

Kachel said that he is encouraged with the results he has gotten back so far.

“As far as getting these pictures is concerned, in some ways I’m actually really optimistic about how many pictures we’ve gotten back in terms of snow leopard outlook and the prognosis for the species,” said Kachel. “The global population estimate ranges from 3,500-7,000 animals and that’s a huge range. It could be anywhere in there, so for at least the trophy hunting site, to get the number of images that we’ve gotten back is encouraging to me.”

Kachel, who is 28, said that if these preliminary results are borne out, it would give conservationists another tool to protect snow leopards and their prey throughout their range.

Article by Adam Thomas

Images courtesy of Panthera and Shannon Kachel

To watch a video of the snow leopards, check out the article on UDaily.

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UD’s McCarthy part of group that films rare striped rabbit in Sumatra

May 23, 2012 under CANR News

With cameras set up in Sumatra looking for medium- and small-sized wild cats, such as leopards, a research group involving the University of Delaware’s Kyle McCarthy, found images of something else entirely — a rabbit. Not just any ordinary rabbit, but a Sumatran striped rabbit, one of the world’s rarest species and one that had been captured on film only three times before.

There has never been a viable study of the Sumatran striped rabbit and McCarthy, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that while his group plans on continuing their study of small cats, they are now also focusing on the rare rabbit species.

“This is the most data that anybody has compiled on these rabbits ever,” said McCarthy. “The idea would be to go get a better idea of how many there might be in an area and we’re hoping that this can spur that forward.”

For the study, led by Jennifer McCarthy, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the group obtained 10 photographs of the Sumatran striped rabbit on two separate occasions in locations 790 meters apart in the Liwa region of Bukit Barisan Seletan National Park.

After obtaining the photographs, the group conducted an informal survey of colleagues who have worked in other protected areas of Sumatra to find out if they had ever seen or documented on film the Sumatran striped rabbit to get a better idea of where the rabbits might be living.

According to Kyle McCarthy, there is a great need for collaboration among the many groups studying animal species in the area because “this is one of those things that can just fly under the radar.”

With disparate researchers in different groups in many different parks, McCarthy said scientists have to collaborate or they could miss out on an important discovery.

The group found that most of the researchers hadn’t recorded the species, but they did find that scientists in Kerinci Seblat National Park, the largest park in Sumatra, had recently seen the rabbits multiple times.

One of the main factors working in the rabbits’ favor is that the group photographed them in an area that thus far has not been subject to heavy amounts of poaching. “One of the problems is that Sumatra continues to be settled and so we’re going to get more and more pressure around the edges of the parks and we’re going to see more poaching,” said McCarthy. “In other parts of this exact same park, we see a lot of poaching across the boundaries. This part is up high enough that we don’t see as many people and we don’t see as many poachers.” A point that McCarthy wanted to make clear is that most of the poachers are doing so to feed themselves, not as a means to profit.

McCarthy said that one of the reasons the group is so eager to launch a study of the rabbit is that “this could be a good spot to try and conserve them, especially for now, because they haven’t had that poaching pressure yet and so there’s probably a bigger population there.”

For now, McCarthy is just excited to be able to bring focus to a species that has been neglected for too long. “We’ve had a chance to not rediscover a species but, in essence, to bring focus back to a very rare rabbit. Often things like rabbits go overlooked because most people don’t even know there is a Sumatran rabbit. Part of doing field work in remote locations is that we are able to see things like this, and it can be really important for conservation.”

Details of the research and the team’s findings are being published in Oryx, an international wildlife journal. For a first look at the article, see the journal website.

The research was funded by the Mohamed bin Zaved Species Conservation Fund, Panthera and the McCarthy Laboratory in CANR’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Kyle McCarthy

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

To watch a video of the rabbit, visit the University of Delaware’s Youtube page

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Spring means baby animals and a busy time for Delaware’s wildlife rehabilitators

April 19, 2012 under CANR News

Every spring, Cathy Martin cares for baby animals that wouldn’t have needed help if humans hadn’t “rescued” them, thinking these wild creatures were orphaned or abandoned by their mothers.

“Springtime is baby season for wildlife. If you encounter young animals, take a few minutes to assess the situation. Wild animals rarely abandon their young,” says Martin, president-elect of the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators. In addition to this volunteer position, Martin is a fisheries biologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

More than 1,500 birds and mammals are brought to wildlife rehabilitators in Delaware each year. Many of these animals are in genuine need of assistance but others would have been better off left alone.

If a baby animal is bleeding or shows other signs of injury, put on gloves and use a towel or dustpan to push the animal into a box. Then call Martin or another local rehabber (see contact info below).

However, if the animal doesn’t appear injured, leave it where you found it. If a bird has fallen from a nest, either put it back in the nest or place it in a cardboard box with a hot water bottle to keep it warm. Give the parent a chance to retrieve it.  (It’s a myth that a parent won’t care for a baby animal if it has been touched by humans.)

Whatever you do, don’t stick around to see if mom is coming back, says Kyle McCarthy, a University of Delaware assistant professor of wildlife ecology.

“You may think that you’re well hidden or that you’re far enough away but a mother deer will smell you and a mother rabbit will see you,” says McCarthy. “She views you as a threat and won’t return until you leave.”

Even without the prospect of danger, some animals don’t devote much time to their newborns. In fact, mother rabbits usually only spend about five minutes at their nests each day.

In the world of ecology, rabbits are known as r-strategists. “Rabbits and other r-strategists give birth to lots of young but invest little parental care in these offspring,” says McCarthy.

Mice and other small rodents, insects, fish, some birds and bacteria are all r-strategists. The results of this laissez faire parenting style can be disastrous. “It’s not uncommon for a mouse to give birth to 20 babies in one season and only one survives through the year,” says McCarthy.

But since rabbits and other r-strategists breed like, well, rabbits, another brood of offspring will arrive before long. Rabbits begin giving birth in spring but have additional litters throughout the warm season.

Bears, deer, fox, some birds and humans are K-strategists. Compared to the r-strategists, fewer young are born in each litter. Deer less than one year old often give birth to just a single fawn; older does usually produce twins. Four kits in a litter is typical for the red fox.

K-strategist parents are heavily invested in the care of their young. After the red fox vixen gives birth, she doesn’t leave the den for about two weeks, relying on the male to bring her food.  The new kits weigh only about 3.5 ounces, are blind and totally helpless.

The parents bring live mice to the den once the kits are about a month old to help them learn how to hunt. The kits continue to live with their parents into mid-autumn.

Groundhogs, which are native to Delaware, usually have April birthdays. Not that you would know it.

“You aren’t going to notice any baby groundhogs running around until much later in the spring,” says McCarthy. “They aren’t able to leave the burrows and walk for a full month.”

McCarthy has a lot of respect for the volunteer work that Martin and other wildlife rehabbers do and he knows that their success stories are hard-earned.

Mortality rates vary for rescued wild animals raised in captivity but generally aren’t good. Baby rabbits are one of the hardest to raise while fawns have a much better survival rate. McCarthy’s own memories confirm this fact. His father was a bear biologist in Juneau, Alaska, and became the town’s de facto wildlife rehabilitator.

“People brought my Dad sick or abandoned porcupines, deer, squab, raptors and other animals,” recalls McCarthy. “As kids, we were always getting attached to the babies and naming them. One of my favorites, ‘Punky,’ a porcupine, was successfully rehabilitated back to the wild but many other animals died despite Dad’s efforts to save them.”

To locate the volunteer wildlife rehabilitator nearest you, go to this website and click on “contact us.”  You also can find info there on how to donate animal products or make a financial contribution to the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators.

Ag Day, April 28

Love baby animals? At Ag Day you can see both juvenile and adult raptors and lots of baby farm animals, including calves and lambs. This annual, free community event takes place on the grounds of UD’s Townsend Hall in Newark. For more information, call 831-2508 or go to the Ag Day website.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology adds Kyle McCarthy to Staff

June 16, 2011 under CANR News

Kyle McCarthy, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, has traveled all around the world, from a childhood growing up in Alaska, to living in Mongolia, to conducting studies on Snow Leopards in Kyrgyzstan in the Tian Shan Mountains. Now, McCarthy finds himself living in the first state, having landed a job as an assistant professor with the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

McCarthy said that he is very excited to be a part of the College and of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

“Once I interviewed, one of the leading factors for why I came here was just the department. It’s a smaller department and there is a lot of collaboration. I feel like everyone works well together, there’s an openness with everybody, and it seemed like a very positive work environment where they still managed to get a lot of important research done. So I am excited about that.”

McCarthy also liked the fact that the wildlife major resulted in the students being able to become certified wildlife biologists under the wildlife society.

“It’s a great part of the program because mine didn’t lead to certification where I did my undergraduate work.”

Last spring, McCarthy taught a wildlife ecology and conservation class, and will add a wildlife management class in the fall and an ornithology lab in the spring.

Having received his bachelor of science in wildlife biology from Colorado State University in 2002, McCarthy went on to earn his masters and doctorate degrees in wildlife conservation from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2007 and 2010.

It was while doing research for his masters degree that McCarthy got to travel to Kyrgyzstan to evaluate monitoring techniques for Snow Leopard populations.

After returning to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, McCarthy conducted his Ph.D. research on the behavioral response of loons to human recreation on Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge in northern New Hampshire.

McCarthy conducted his post doctorate work at the University of Florida where he worked with Florida panthers, assessing their behavioral response to recreational presence in Big Cypress National Preserve.

With all of his background in researching big cats, McCarthy said that he would like to develop a cat research program here at UD.

For now, McCarthy said that he looks forward to collaborating with his peers and educating his students.

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