Dr. Kate Jenks is a Conservation Biologist at the Minnesota Zoo. She was recently in Thailand leading the Zoo’s efforts to save endangered dholes (otherwise known as Asian wild dogs) in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI).  The team was hoping to place GPS collars on dholes to track their movement patterns and assess threats to their survival. This work is funded through private contributions to the Minnesota Zoo Foundation and grants to SCBI. Check out the first blog of this series for more background information here.

Our veterinarian, Sarah, checking a captured monitor lizardI’m in the middle of hand-washing my clothes in a bucket, but I stand up and wipe the sudsy soap off of my wrists and fingers.  I try to fit in tasks like this or even eating and sleeping in between having to go check our trap sites that are set up to catch dholes.  And, once again, the trap transmitter signal is beeping fast.  This means that something is caught or moved at one of our sites.  We quickly pile into the truck to investigate.  My laundry will have to wait.  That is one of the nice things about camping…it is a great excuse to be dirty!

Our team doesn’t get very far down the dusty dirt road before we are forced to stop.  The road is completely blocked by downed bamboo.  The bamboo blocking the path looks like a giant oversized game of pick-up-sticks.  The rangers have to carefully choose which pieces to cut and which to drag in what order to untangle the mess of branches.  In the night, a herd of elephants pulled all of this down.  It is a common road block that we often run into.

A tangle of bamboo left by elephants is blocking the roadThis time, none of the traps were actually triggered.  However, our bait, a large chunk of pork, is gone.  Who stole the bait?  Monitor lizards are the number one culprit and we blame the lizard that we saw running away from the scene of the crime as the truck pulled up.  While we are targeting dholes, we can’t keep other carnivores from being interested in our bait.  We have camera traps set up at each site.  Camera traps are cameras that are fastened to trees.  They automatically take a picture when an animal walks in front of the camera sensor.  Today, the camera will help us identify the thief.

Moo, our field assistant suddenly gasps as he pans through the photos.  Yes, there is the expected monitor lizard, but there is also a clear photo of two dholes!  This is an immediate boost of adrenaline for our team.  We were planning to finish our trapping work tomorrow, heavy with disappointment that we were not able to catch a dhole.  The GPS collar that we were hoping to place on a dhole still sits in the truck.  But now, a single photo offers hope and excitement.  Dholes are in the area!  Let the trapping continue…

Read part 5

Camera trap photo of two dholes on Valentine’s Day