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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Friday, November 8, 1996

Prey density study
Reported by Chris Lucash

We are finishing our fourth and final week of our "mark and recapture" raccoon study. We are trying to estimate the population density of the raccoons in the Tremont Road area of the Park. Biological technician John Weller is going to check the line of Havahart® traps he's set out. John will mark the animals caught with ear tags and release them.

Although we may catch other small mammals, it's the trapped raccoons that are important to us right now. When raccoons that have ear tags (because they have been caught before) are found in the traps we get the data we need. The number of tagged raccoons recaptured is compared with the total number captured, and we are able to determine a "prey density" (population estimate) for the area we trapped. And, because raccoons are a main part of the red wolves' diet, we learn about the ability of red wolves to survive in the Tremont section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Our goal for this study is to collect information that will enable us to compare the "prey density" in the Tremont area with other areas where we have released red wolves. Since 1992, three releases of breeding pairs (packs) of red wolves have taken place in the mature forests of the Tremont drainage. In all three trials, the wolves have moved out of the high elevation Tremont area. Some settled in private property north of the Park. Other red wolves moved to Cades Cove, which is an area of pastures and shrubs.

Last month we completed a study of the raccoon population in Cades Cove — where red wolves were released, have settled, and prospered since 1991. Cades Cove provides an abundance of raccoons, white-tail deer, and other prey animals. We'll compare our information about the prey population there with the prey population in Tremont as soon as our trapping period ends.

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