Drones to locate and protect wolverine den sites

Ecologist Nikki Heim (left) and UAV professional Alex Taylor (right) are utilizing drone technology to locate where wolverines may be denning in order to give them better protections. Photo by Dan Rafla

Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are one of Canada’s iconic fur-bearing animals. The eastern population is considered endangered, but the western population is listed as a species of special concern. As a species that naturally lives in low densities and requires large, intact landscapes to thrive, protecting the western population can be difficult.

A recent project undertaken by Nikki Heim, an ecologist, and Alex Taylor, a UAV professional, used drones to identify the area in which a den may be located, allowing for greater protections.

By identifying wolverine tracks from the UAV, the team was able to locate the area where a wolverine family likely emerged from a den in spring 2021. Specialized equipment and training were required to utilize the drone technology safely and within the confines of federal aviation regulations. Next, the duo will conduct a ground search to determine a more precise location of the den site.

“With support and stewardship from Talus Lodge [who owns the land where the den site is believed to be located], recommended mitigations will be implemented to afford this wolverine female with the space she needs to rear her young,” reads the preliminary report.

The Fur-Bearers provided financial support to this project and are excited by the prospects of future protection to one of Canada’s fur-bearing animals as a result. The exact location of found den sites will not be shared with the public.

To learn more about wolverines and available research on them, visit WolverineWatch.org. To learn more about Alex Taylor, UAVs and how they’re responsibly used, check out Raven West Limited.

Alex and Nikki will be appearing in an upcoming episode of the Defender Radio podcast! Click here to learn how to subscribe to receive notifications of new episodes right on your smart device.

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