Golden Eagle Gets Second Chance

Golden Eagle Gets Second Chance

Golden Eagle Gets Second Chance

Photo credit:  L. Caskenette

A golden eagle was admitted Wednesday evening, November 24th 2021, to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. This individual, who is quite a bit bigger than the last golden eagle in our care, was found by a member of the public in the middle of the road, in between Haines Junction and Mendenhall area.

Upon initial assessment of the animal there appeared to be no broken bones but was severely hypothermic. Given it was found in the middle of the HWY, Dr. Maria Hallock guesses it was perhaps struck by a vehicle, concussed and resting in place but ultimately becoming weaker due to extended immobility in the extreme cold. While its not certain how long the animal was there for it was enough for the animal to be near frozen state upon its discovery. 

On Thursday morning the eagle was given additional fluids, on top of the fluids it received upon its arrival the evening prior. Some chicken was fed to the eagle in the later part of the Thursday along with a quail. 

On Friday the eagle appeared more responsive and alert and eager to eat by itself. This care and close observation occurred inside the Rehabilitation building where Dr. Maria Hallock waited for the animal to defecate – poop, for assessing continued signs of improvement and health in the GI tract – all good there by the way! 

The eagle will spend the next several days in the Centre being closed monitored. While during the day it will spend time in an outside care room, in the evenings it will come inside. 

If all continues well in its progress and recovery a release back to the wild could possibly happen sometime next week. 

Had this person not taken the steps they did, including assessing the animals from a safe distance and calling Conservation Officers and subsequently the Preserve, this eagle would very likely have succumbed to the elements or get fatally struck by a vehicle.

We are so grateful to live among a community that values wildlife, that cares about our natural world – it’s our mission, to connect people to the natural world and everyday we’re inspired by the landscape, animals and people that make this incredible territory, the Yukon, a place that is wild at heart <3

Lindsay Caskenette

Lindsay Caskenette

Manager of Visitor Services

Lindsay joined the Wildlife Preserve team March 2014. Originally from Ontario, she came to the Yukon in search of new adventures and new career challenges. Lindsay holds a degree in Environmental Studies with honours from Wilfrid Laurier University and brings with her a strong passion to share what nature, animals and the environment can teach us.

867-456-7400
lindsay@yukonwildlife.ca

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Preparing for Winter – Adaption or Bust!

Preparing for Winter – Adaption or Bust!

Preparing for Winter – Adaption or Bust!

10 min read –

Some winters in the Yukon can be severe, and other years, they can be mild. Weather patterns are fickle and may change day by day. As the winter season may last for up to nearly six months, animals in the wild have several preparations to perform before they are ready to withstand the cold temperatures and make a living in the snow and ice-covered environments they depend on for food.

Some animals migrate south to warmer climes as they do not have the physical attributes like dense fur or feathers to shield them from the cold. Others migrate because the foods they depend on are not available here during the winter season.

Swans are seen in fall 2021 overhead the Wildlife Preserve on their migration south. Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

 

The animals that remain here over the winter adapt by growing thicker coats of fur, hair or feathers to keep them warm, they also eat more to add to the fat layer under their hides which will act as both an insulator and an energy battery. Still some other animals hibernate under the ground or in other natural shelters where they will spend the winter season in a deep sleep or ’torpor’ when they do not wake up to eat or perform other activities, they may however become somewhat active in the short -term if warm weather causes meltwater to flow into their resting place or similar disturbances rouse them.

Hibernation is a physical state where an animal’s body function slows down in order to conserve energy through a seasonal period of no food and water. This slower body function is characterized by a decrease in body temperature and reduced respiration or breathing. The animal will generally curl up into a tight ball to help keep warm as their body temperature drops, and respiration and heart rate slow down. These actions reduce the amount of energy the animal must expend to stay alive so it’s able to live off fat reserves it has developed instead of constantly having to seek out fresh food.

Some species like bears give birth in their dens in the latter part of their hibernation, whereby the mother’s nursing of the offspring will further reduce her energy reserves.

Arctic Ground Squirrels, or common gophers are typically the first species to begin hibernation and have the most extended sleep of any hibernating mammal.  They begin their hibernation usually around the middle to end of September, however if weather conditions are extreme, they may hibernate as early as August. The females normally go underground first followed by the males a few weeks later. Ground Squirrels gather edible plants, seeds, rose hips, berries and other green vegetation and cache this food away for later use. They do not wake up from their hibernation to eat, but rather they store this food for the early spring season when they emerge from their hibernation dens, usually in late April or early May. A time when there may still be a meter of snow on the ground and long before new fresh vegetation begins to grow. The foods they cache in the fall will sustain them in the spring until new vegetation becomes available once again.

A ground squirrel emerges from hibernation to find several inches of snow still on the ground. Back to bed!
Photo credit: L.Caskenette

While we’re on the topic of food, many animal species spend the latter part of the summer and autumn season gorging on food to add to their fat reserves. It is called hyperphagia which means overeating. Having an abundance of fat helps the animals to endure hibernation better. Even those creatures that do not hibernate will often eat more to add to their fat reserves, and some others cache away food for consumption over the winter months.

Arctic Ground Squirrel gathering dried grasses.  Some animals, such as rodents, gather food when it is in abundance and store it for their needs over the winter, or early spring, months.

Chickadees and some other bird species will gather and hide food in the summer season and come back later in the year to consume it. Same too for red squirrels that gather pinecones and mushrooms and store these in abundance to help them survive a cold frosty winter.

Pine cone cache.
Photo credit: D.Caldwell. 

However, some creatures like the Wood Frog employ a different hibernation strategy to get through the winter season. These frogs have adapted to cold climates by freezing their entire bodies over the winter. After eating until they are stuffed, they crawl a few inches under the mud of still-water lakes and ponds where they stop breathing and their hearts stop beating and they freeze rock solid. Their bodies produce a special antifreeze substance that prevents ice from freezing within their cells, which would be deadly. Ice does form, however, in the spaces between the cells. When the weather warms in the spring, the frogs thaw and begin feeding and mating again, often beginning their mating season as soon as the ice starts to melt off the lakes and ponds.

Left to right: Wood Frog illustration; Nature Camp kids partake in dipnetting, exploring what’s in the water ecosystem; a tadpole.

Many species like moose, caribou and mountain sheep concluded their breeding cycles in the autumn months meaning the females will be carrying developing fetuses over the winter season. Nutritional consumption over the winter will influence the health of the offspring when born in the spring. Also, threats from predators and other sources may influence the health of the mothers if they become overly stressed which may in turn have some effect on how robust the offspring are in their early weeks of life.

Left to right: moose in snowy winter, post rut; look for the female moose among the Yukon scene; a caribou cow and calf in the spring – the grass isnt’t green yet! 
Photo credit: L.Caskenette & J.Paleczny

Some species like Thinhorn Sheep gather in communal groups over the winter for the safety of the herd. After mating in late November and early December the males and females go their separate ways with the females and last year`s offspring often gathered together in groups on a south-facing hillside.

Thinhorn sheep congregate.
Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

A south facing hill will typically produce better grazing due to the amount of sunlight received before the snow fell; and animals can benefit from a south facing location when the sun is at its lowest on the horizon during the winter weeks. Solstice, being on Dec. 21st, will only produce direct sunlight for a few limited hours.  These few hours may provide warming from the sun`s radiation which is welcomed by most warm-blooded creatures.

Thinhorn sheep congregate on a snowy, but south-facing slope.
Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

Looking at a grassland pasture in the winter season, many are not aware of the vast community of animals that live under the snow cover. The temperature under the snow`s crust is often some degrees warmer than the exposed air above the surface. There are networks of tunnels and middens – nests made from long grasses, moss and similar vegetation.

Vole tunels in the snow.
Photo curteousy of and credit

The networks made by these inhabitants allow them to seek new food resources, find mating partners and provides safety from predators such as the Short-tailed Weasel who hunts Red-backed Voles for both food and they strip the fur off the vole to insulate their dens. 

Short tailed weasel with Vole.
Photo credit: D. Caldwell

Many visitors ask why we leave the antler sheds on the ground where they fall off the animal. These antlers are important resources for the many rodents and other species that live beneath the snow and grasses. Antlers are rich in calcium and other nutrients that help the smaller creatures to endure the winter when nutrition is more difficult to acquire.  Nature wastes nothing! 

Left to right: a say’s phoebe lands on an antler shed; elk in the foreground of a recent antler shed.
Photo credit: J.Paleczny

Winter also creates challenges to carnivores like foxes, weasels and lynx. Consider, one of their summer food items are migratory songbirds which have migrated south in late August. As noted above, ground squirrels – a primary summer food for carnivores – will begin hibernating in August or September which leaves these small predators a primary diet of mice and similar rodents to eat for the next six months. Rabbits and grouse are also available in limited quantities, and these carnivores may receive a special treat in cleaning up the carcass of an animal killed by larger predators. A fox will cover long distances each day and night in search of foods that may be available with some thought and cunning nature.

A cross fox searches for food.
Photo credit: J.Paleczny

Animals have adapted and evolved to thrive in this northern environment with such dramatic seasonal variations and climatic extremes. Equipped with a suite of skills, instincts, habits and abilities that these creatures have developed over the centuries, they will continue to endure Nature`s winter survival extremes.

Doug Caldwell

Doug Caldwell

Wildlife Interpreter

Doug is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides here at the Preserve. An avid angler and hunter he has a broad knowledge of Yukon’s wilderness and the creatures that live here. With a focus on the young visitors to the Preserve, Doug takes the extra time to help our guests to better appreciate the many wonders of the animal kingdom here in the Yukon.

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A Day with an Animal Care Assistant

A Day with an Animal Care Assistant

A Day with an Animal Care Assistant

8 minute read.

My name is Abbey, I am a part-time animal care assistant and part-time wildlife interpreter here at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve for the summer of 2021. I am a biology major at the University of Winnipeg. Fall 2021 I start my second year of my degree. One of my goals in life is to visit all three territories in Canada, with Nunavut already crossed off the Yukon was next on my list. The Wildlife Preserve offers me a chance to put my education to practice and help me decide which route in the biological field I want to pursue (I bet by the end of this post you can guess which route I am leaning towards). This post will discuss what I have experienced as an animal care assistant here at the Preserve and hopefully give some insight about what goes on behind the scenes for you the reader.

You may have been on the Preserve and been at the right place and time to see the animal care team at work. The animal care team works hard to keep the Preserve and rehabilitation animal’s happy and healthy. Working in animal care is never a stagnant job, animal needs change, babies are born, new rehabilitation animals arrive making this job ever changing. This post will follow my day around the preserve as an Animal Care Assistant starting in the Preserve’s Wildlife Rehabilitation and Research Centre, down to the first half of the lower loop up to the upper loop and back down to the second half to complete our figure eight.

This map shows the homes of each of the species in our collection located on the front and back loops of the figure 8 trail network. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is located in staff access area.

Rehabilitation Centre

The Rehabilition Centre in the shadows of a golden eagle patient in the large outdoor aviary. Photo credit: J.Paleczny

To start off the day I check the animals that are in rehabilitation care to make sure their habitats are clean and that the animals are well – observation of animal behaviour is a very important role in animal care.  In the rehabilitation center the animals we look after often have strict eating schedules which dictates what is done during my day and when. An example of this is the moose we received in late May of 2021. This calf is not shy and is always excited to eat! He gets almost too excited, so we have to slow him down. It’s exactly like when your puppy eats way too fast and you have to find ways to slow them down. After feeding, we watch him until he defecates and lays down, this is an important step to ensure he is healthy and progressing how we would expect him to. As you continue reading this post you will recognize the particular theme of observing the animals’ behaviors: this is to ensure the health of the animals in our care.

Next step is to prepare the feed for the collection animals. The caribou females eat a beet pulp mixture that you just add water to and it expands twice or three times the original amount. It almost looks like that elephant toothpaste science experiment but in slow motion! We also mix that with donated fresh fruit pulp. We’re very lucky to receive support from so many local organizations including grocery stores. Fun fact, caribou don’t like citrus or ginger, they’ll eat around it and leave it behind (so we sort that out and give it to the moose).

Oranges donated from Wykes Independent Grocer.

We then prepare the carnivore food. The arctic fox, red foxes and lynx all get a healthy amount of red meat and white meat. Once the food is prepared, which means to cut it up, weigh and portion it out per species it’s placed in the fridge for later.

The silver fox enjoys lunch and is lip licking satisfied thanks to Animal Care staff food prep. Photo credit: L.Caskenette

We then head to the hay barn to get pellets for the muskox and bison. These two species don’t have a feed station attached to their habitats like the other ungulates, they are a bit too rough on their surroundings, so that means pellets are not stored at the habitat in the protective feed stations. 

Getting pellets is no small feat, the first time I tried to fill a bucket it took me four tries to get a full bucket! For reference I am 5’0, and the bags are as tall as I am when they are full. Once we have our pellets ready, we load up the animal care truck and begin our tour around the preserve.

Front Loop

In this portion of the front loop or sometimes called the lower loop we will encounter the elk, bison, mule deer and moose in that order as we start counterclockwise on the loop. We begin first by making sure all the elk are present, look alert and healthy and then check their hay and water levels.

Then we stop at the bison who are usually laying or standing around as a group. These animals get their pellets poured in two straight, long lines on the ground so there is plenty of room to share between these big, big eaters. We hang around the habitat to count the animals and check them for any changes in behaviour. This is an important opportunity to make observations in any changes of health that can be reported to Dr. Maria Hallock, our full-time veterinarian. If anything is astray Dr. Hallock will investigate further but most days I get to see and learn the amazing behaviours of these animals.

After that, we head over to the mule deer where we first check their water and then head into the feeding station where we find their stored feed, tools, and the animal information sheet. Each animal information sheet is specific to the species, we count how many animals we see and how much they are fed. We also take the time to write down any observations of the animals whether it’s a mule deer with diarrhea or a moose acting out of character all observations are recorded and forwarded to Maria.

We use a scoop instead of a bucket to pour feed into their troughs (thank goodness). In the same shed we also feed our moose and again we scoop their feed into their troughs although they have a much bigger scoop so it’s important to keep everything separate.

Back Loop

In the back loop we will find our thinhorn sheep, caribou and mountain goats. We move to our thinhorn sheep where we wear booties and gloves to protect them from outside pathogens. This species tends to be more susceptible to bacteria’s so the Preserve biosecurity is heightened here when entering their habitat.

Left photo shows a thinhorn sheep sedated for a check up and hoof trimming. Right shows Outdoor Operations staff working on fencing within the ewe habitat. Both photos show staff wearing booties and gloves to help protect the animals against pathogens. Photo credit: J.Paleczny

This species has both pellets and hay in their feeding station. Learning to use a pitchfork has been a learning curve! Who knew something with so much space between each prong could carry so much?

We clean and remove excess hay and feces from the feeding stations which we compost. We head on over to the caribou (who were hoping will have babies this year) and whose food we mixed earlier.

Caribou cow and calf from summer 2019. Photo credit: J.Paleczny

We go into their habitat and create piles of the beet pulp. We then head to the mountain goats who are usually high up in the cliffs making counting them a tricky task! This species gets hay and pellets and a clean up just like the sheep do.

Mountain goats hang out on the cliff – it’s safety and sometimes sun bathing! Photo credit: L.Caskenette

Although beware of Geronimo whose patience for humans is very thin! Every animal has a personality and some are more memorable than others. The first time I met him I thought he was ill only to find out he was just in a bad mood (he always is – he’s a goat). To be fair when I say bad mood, he’s really just displaying signs of normal defensive behaviour that has been somewhat elevated due to his story as a kid.

Carnivore Corner

The back loop can be further divided into the Carnivore Corner where we will find the lynx, arctic foxes, and red foxes. The carnivore corner is where the most fun feedings occur! Sometimes we do themed enrichment feedings – check out our Halloween one!

We stop at the lynx who are usually waiting by the fence for food, I swear they hear the truck and spot the green jackets and come running! The females are most expectant and the odd time the male will be waiting too but he’s a little more reserved.

Lynx come in for feeding, intent but smooth movement towards the food. Photo credit: L.Caskenette

We head over to the arctic foxes who look super cute but throw in a piece of red meat into the mix and their carnivore side comes out. You can watch the arctic foxes feeding here! 

Very cute, but also very ready for food! Photo credit: L.Caskenette

Next, we head over to the red foxes who are the funniest to feed! ‘Definitely’ the red fox makes the cutest yipping noises when he sees you pull up! What does a fox say you might ask? It sounds something similar to a yip and laugh mixed together. He will race around to get food before the silver fox does, I swear that silver fox has more patience than I’ve ever seen.

The red fox is always ready for food and will eat as much as he possibly can. What he can’t, he will grab and go stash it. Don’t worry, the silver fox gets his share – he goes and finds the red foxes stash in his own time. Photo credit: L.Caskenette

Front Loop – Round 2

 In the second half of the lower loop we feed the muskox and check in on the elk and bison habitats as we head back to the animal care building. We then head to my favourite animal, the muskox, which is the best part of my day in animal care. These guys have a special metal structure for handling and feeding that limits contact, increases safety for staff and provides shelter for the muskox and muskox supplemental feed.

Muskox do not have feed stations. Instead, they have a metal handling and feeding structure to ensure the safety of both staff and muskox along with the longetivey of the building! Photo credit: J.Paleczny

 Muskox are incredibly fierce with a social order that is largely based on an aggressive hierarchy but they are also protective of their herd. There’s nothing more intimidating than a territorial, protective and potential in rut (mating season) muskox so it’s best to keep your distance.

If the bison or the elk were too far away on my first look I will spend this time counting and watch for behavioral changes on this part of the loop. 

All while this is happening, we have to be wary of our time for feeding our rehab animals on tight schedules. There is also time during the day to do some other tasks like creating habitats for our rehabilitation animals or doing some spring cleaning in some of the collection animals’ habitats. By the time this is all done my arm and back muscles are jelly and I am ready to hand off the torch to the next animal care assistant. 

To conclude my time here at Yukon Wildlife Preserve is an experience I will never forget from feeding my favourite animal (the muskox) to finding a new passion in helping care for animals. While I came for a summer, for work, the Yukon and it’s incredible fauna hold a strong place in my heart, summer 2022 can’t come soon enough!  In the meantime and year-round you can go behind the scenes and witness the extreme care and diligent work that is required by Animal Care staff to care for all the animals at the Preserve through a variety of experience and tour options – check it out! 

Abbey Mondor

Abbey Mondor

Wildlife Interpreter & Animal Care Assistant

Abbey joined the preserve the summer of 2021 to continue a lifelong dream of experiencing all three of Canada’s territories. With Nunavut already crossed off, the yukon was the next on her list! Abbey is currently studying biology at the University of Winnipeg making this experience a perfect place for her to put her education to practice! Abbey works both in visitor services and animal care where her desire to care for wildlife has grown. Her favourite part about working on the preserve is learning about all the personalities of the animals here.

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Hungry Hungry Hipp… Moose!

Hungry Hungry Hipp… Moose!

Hungry Hungry Hipp… Moose!

2 minutes video plus short introduction and photo timeline.

He’s hungry – drinking 4pints of milk replacer in 1 minute and 37seconds. This happens 5 times a day!

On May 24, 2021, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve received a baby male moose from Conservation Officer Services. The Preserve’s Veterinarian, Dr. Maria Hallock, reports the young moose is very small – likely only a couple of days old – but appears to be healthy and is eating well.

 

After finding the young moose on May 24th, a member of the public ended up taking the moose back to their home. They called the Preserve, which referred their call to CO Services. CO Services collected the moose and brought it to the Preserve on the evening of May 24th. Read the full Press Release.

It’s always preferable for a moose like this to have the opportunity to grow up with its mom in the wild,” says Paleczny. “But our team is working hard to provide the best life we can for this little moose.”. . .

Male moose calf – day 2 at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s Wildlife Rehabilition Centre. Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

Male moose calf – day 10 at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s Wildlife Rehabilition Centre. Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

Male moose calf – day 67 at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s Wildlife Rehabilition Centre. Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

Lindsay Caskenette

Lindsay Caskenette

Manager of Visitor Services

Lindsay joined the Wildlife Preserve team March 2014. Originally from Ontario, she came to the Yukon in search of new adventures and new career challenges. Lindsay holds a degree in Environmental Studies with honours from Wilfrid Laurier University and brings with her a strong passion to share what nature, animals and the environment can teach us.

867-456-7400
lindsay@yukonwildlife.ca

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What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

4 minute read.
As we are out enjoying some of the many trails the Yukon has to offer, we often have to watch our step to make sure we’re not putting our boots in something smelly! These unexpected trail obstacles can be great indicators of whose habitat we are walking into, what they are eating, and how they are digesting it. Just like us, many animals have dynamic diets, and will eat what is available. Scat can be interesting but can also spread diseases, even to humans, so it should be looked at and not touched, especially by our furry companions.

Bears

Black bears are opportunistic omnivores who will eat whatever food they can find, including fish, fruit, meat, insects, and herbs and grasses. Grizzlies have a similar diet, but tend to favour high-energy meat and insects more than the smaller black bears. Like their diets, bear scat appearance is quite varied, and often contains fragments of their last meal, like seeds, bits of berries, or small animal bones. Wildlife Interpreter Maureen recounts seeing a landscape covered in red wine-coloured piles that were actually scat from grizzlies that had eaten a lot of cranberries!

Light brown bear scat with seeds visible.

Bears are relatives of mammalian carnivores, they have a digestive system similar to carnivores, without a cecum or extended large intestine. This limits how efficiently they can process leafy plant material and they must eat a lot if they are relying on these foods, which is common in the spring. As a result, when a bear eats a lot of plant material their scat often has a green tinge from the undigested grasses or a fibrous appearance. Typically, their scat is brown or black and tapered, though sometimes it can appear as more globular if it is loose. Grizzly scat tends to be a bit wider and larger piles than black bear scat. It can be hard to distinguish between the two, but both should make a hiker cautious of the trail ahead. Remember bear spray and noisemakers and stay bear safe!

Left to right: Older bear scat; bear scat that is darker brown in colour with grasses visible.

If you’re interested in getting involved in bear research, the Operation Ursus Research using Scat (OURS) project is aimed at estimating the Yukon grizzly and black bear populations using DNA available in bear scat. Lucile leads the study and shares the project story Bear Poo and You with YWP.

Canines

Foxes, wolves, and coyotes are more exclusively carnivorous than bears, but may occasionally eat berries and seeds. Their digestive system is similar to that of a bear, as is their scat. Wolves’ stomachs are specially adapted to hold a lot of food so that after a hunt they can get their share of the reward. Additionally, their stomach is very acidic to kill off any pathogens in the meat. It is tubular and tapered and may contain bits of bones, fur, or berries. It may be lighter, as it varies from tan to dark brown in colour. It is, however, smaller than bear scat: fox scat is about 1.25 cm in diameter, coyote scat is about 2 cm, and wolf scat is usually at least 2.5 cm in diameter.

Wolf scat with fur visible.

There will likely be much less of it as well. Foxes often defecate in obvious areas to mark their territory. The Wildlife Preserve exists as an ecosystem within a larger ecosystem and foxes are one of the many wild animals that visit. They seem to like to use the boardwalks at the front cabin to do their business!

Foxes often defecate in obvious places to mark their territory.

Left photo credit: L.Caskenette.

Feline – Lynx

Unlike generalist bears and canines, lynxes are specialists. Snowshoe hares are their primary food source, and can make up 75% of their winter diet. Meat is highly digestible, meaning that most of what is consumed can be broken down and absorbed easily. Lynx digestive systems, therefore, have shorter small intestines relative to body size and less developed caecum than canines.

Lynx scat of varying ages among grass.

Their scat is black, tubular and tapered, and does not have so much undigested material as the bears or canines. It is also very smelly. Like a house cat, they will cover their scat with dirt or snow, probably to hide their presence from nearby animals. Also like house cats, they often defecate in the same latrine over and over, which can be seen in our lynx habitat.

Lynx, like house cats, often poop in the same places every time. This is one of the latrines in the lynx habitat at the Preserve.

Cervids

The Yukon has a great variety of cervids (antler bearing animals) or members of the deer family. Their diets, digestive systems, and scat have many similarities. In general, they produce uniform, dark brown or black oval-shaped pellets, which result from uniform movements of smooth muscles in the large intestine and its sphincters.

From left to right: Caribou, moose, mule deer and elk. Photo Credit: L.Caskenette & J.Paleczny.

Their diets are often high in fibrous, dry tree materials like leaves and twigs, which is why their feces forms pellets. If they are eating more grasses, in the summer, it may appear softer and more clumpy. Cervids are all ruminants which means that their stomachs have four compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  This allows for fermentation by bacteria and other processes that break down vegetation. This is part of the reason that cervid scat does not have as much undigested material as the carnivores’, despite their plant diet having less digestible material. In addition, they will regurgitate their food and chew it again, also called chewing their cud!

Left to Right: Soft caribou scat clumps together versus caribou scat in pellet form.

Deer pellets are small, about 1 cm in diameter, and are left in piles of many pellets. They defecate an average of 13 times per day! Elk scat is similar but 1-1.5 cm in diameter, and moose scat is even larger at 1.5-2 cm in diameter. Deer and elk pellets are rounder than moose pellets.

Softer deer scat often clumps together as seen here.

Moose are more strictly browsers, that eat only tree materials, so mostly their pellets are harder. Caribou scat appears somewhat more rough than deer or moose scat. It is often in harder pellet form in the winter when they eat a lot of lichens and sedges. In the summer, when their diet switches to grasses and vegetation with a high moisture content, their scat often forms larger soft clumps.

Moose scat in pellet form, darker brown because it’s older.

Bovids

There are also a wide variety of bovids (horn bearing animals) in the Yukon. Our mountain sheep, mountain goats, muskox, and bison are all ruminants, just like the cervids. They are all herbivores who eat a variety of grasses, sedges, seedlings, and leaves.

Left to Right: Muskox, bison, mountain goat, thinhorn sheep. Photo Credit: L. Caskenette

Muskox, mountain goats, and thinhorn mountain sheep also form pellet scat, even when their diets consist largely of grass. That’s because their digestive tracts are highly evolved to reabsorb as much water as possible, likely an adaptation to their arid alpine (goats and sheep) and tundra (muskox) habitats.

Sheep scat forms pellets.

Goats have varied diets that includes browse, shrubs, lichens, grasses, and even trees. Their alpine foraging sites may be sparse, which doesn’t allow them to be picky eaters. Muskoxen eat grasses, forbs (herbaceous flowering plants), and willows, which they often have to dig out from the frozen arctic ground by smashing the permafrost with their heads and pawing the ice pieces out of the way. Mountain sheep eat mostly grasses and some other low growing sedges.

Muskox scat.

Bison scat is distinct from all the other ruminants mentioned above, because it forms an indistinct pile. Their diet is also primarily grasses and other low-lying herbaceous plants, but they may eat some willows and twigs. Grasses would make their scat more loose, but we’re taking suggestions for what makes their scat so different from the other grass-loving bovids!

Bison patty.

Hopefully after hearing all of these scat facts you can see scat as more than just something gross to be avoided on the side of the trail. It can tell you who’s habitat you are in, but also what they have been eating. It is interesting to watch it change throughout the season. Of course biologists may be able to find out way more about an animal through their scat, for instance genetic samples or presence of pathogens. There is so much to learn from the scat around us!
Although all the different scat we explored above is only a small number of animals, all species do it and we encourage you to:

1. Explore other species scat/defecation/poop – whatever you want to call it!

2. Pack out yours and your furry companions (yours domestic canines) poo in the backcountry and wilderness places you visit!

3. Sing the Scat Rap Song!  

It starts with an S and it ends with a T
It comes out of you
and it comes out of me
I know what you’re thinking
But don’t call it that
Let’s be scientific, and call it SCAT
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

You can find it on the ground
It’s usually colored brown
It is shaped in a mound
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

You can smell it with your nose
It’s gonna decompose
It’s where the fungus grows
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

Birds flying through the air
Look out! Beware!
It landed in your hair
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I was hiking through the fog
When I saw a big log
It came from a dog
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I was tired of TV
I was checking out the trees
I could smell it on the breeze
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I know it’s kind of gory
But it’s a true story
It marks territory
It is a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

I picked up a chicken
And something was drippin’
It wasn’t finger-lickin’
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

A squirrel ate a nut
Digested in its gut
It came out of its butt
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

If you park your car
By the woods or a field
You might find something on your windshield
Full of berries
Both purple and white
You just got bombed by a bird in flight
It was a piece of scat
(PIECE OF SCAT!)

Photo Credit: Sophia Slater or as otherwise credited.
References:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) sign. ADFG. 

Blood, D.A. Mountain sheep. Hinterlands Who’s Who. 

Blood, D.A. (2000). Mountain Goat in British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Environment Land and Parks.

Bosch, G., Hagen-Plantinga, E., & Hendriks, W. (2015). Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: Insights for optimal dog nutrition? British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S1), S40-S54. doi:10.1017/S0007114514002311

Keith, L.B. Canada lynx. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (2018, June 25). What scat can tell you about your wildlife neighbors. CSERC

Costello, C.M., Cain, S.L., Pils, S., Frattaroli, L., Haroldson, M.A., & van Manen, F.T. (2016). Diet and macronutrient optimization in wild Ursids: A comparison of grizzly bears with sympatric and allopatric black bears. PLoS ONE, 11(5).

Gray, D.R. Muskox. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Hatch, K., Roeder, B., Buckman, R., Gale, B., Bunnell, S., Eggett, D., Auger, J., Felicetti, L., & Hilderbrand, G. (2011). Isotopic and gross fecal analysis of American black bear scats. Ursus, 22(2), 133–140. 

Howard, W.T., Hutjens, M., Kilmer, L., Linn, A., Otterby, D., & Shaver, R. (2021). The ruminant digestive system. University of Minnesota Extension

Winand, C.J. (2008, September). Deer Pelletology. Buckmasters Magazine

Sophia Slater

Sophia Slater

Wildlife Interpreter & Animal Care Assistant

Sophia is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides and animal care assistants at the Preserve. She is new to the Yukon and moved here from Ontario, where she just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Nipissing University. Hiking mountains is her newfound passion while she’s here, and she’s hoping to summit as many as she can this summer. At the preserve, she loves getting to talk to and learn from guests who come from all over the Yukon and beyond about their experiences with wildlife.

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Why are red foxes so happy among us?

Why are red foxes so happy among us?

Why are red foxes so happy among us?

5.5 minute read. 

Red foxes are as familiar to any Yukoner as seeing their friend or colleague walking down the street. They are a welcome resident of Whitehorse, and most urban environments in Canada. Though many species numbers have declined since Europeans arrived to the shores of what is now North America, the red fox is the exception to the rule. Red fox populations have only increased since human settlements have grown and expanded. In fact, the red fox is one of the most widely distributed territorial mammals in the world.1even in the Arctic

So why are red fox numbers growing alongside human populations? One reason that the arrival of Europeans coincided with a growth in the red fox population in Canada is that Europeans brought foxes with them. There was already a species of native red fox living here at that time, so both native and non-native red foxes live in North America. Native red foxes are what we typically see in the north; they are the Canadian Boreal Forest species that colonised here shortly after the last glacial period, around 11,000 years ago. Non-native red foxes are found further south, where they were released by European settlers in the mid 1700s, for hunting purposes. However, introduced red foxes are not the only reason fox numbers have increased since colonisation. Though it is commonly thought that people are generally bad for wildlife, there are certain species that benefit greatly from people, and red foxes are one of them!

Despite red foxes having plenty of wildland in which to settle and bear their young, they’ve often chosen human settlements to set up shop. Red foxes are part of the group called ‘synanthropic species.’ These species live near humans and directly benefit from human-altered landscapes. Animals such as mice, rats, pigeons, racoons, skunks, and coyotes are synanthropic species. Red foxes, like these other animals, benefits from our landscape alterations, including gardens, bird feeders, garbage dumps, sheds, porches, and barns, all of which provide either suitable food or shelter, and often both. These species have learned how to exploit human settlements to their advantage, and they thrive in suburbs and cities that are in or near forests or fields. An ‘edge species’ lives at the border of two different habitat types, or ecotones, such as where forest meets grassland. A city like Whitehorse could be an ecotone in and of itself, since its boundaries are rich forest area. But in other cities such as large metropolises, humans have created habitats that very closely mimic an edge species’ natural environment. Gardens and yards that back onto bushy or forested area are perfect for red foxes and other edge species. Because rats, mice, and voles enjoy human suburban environments, red foxes have an abundant food source when living near people, not to mention the garbage that people inevitably leave lying around or in unsecured garbage cans.
Moreover, red foxes require shelter for denning, and the underside of sheds and decks, or your rotting wood pile all offer what a fox needs to rear its young. And because human settlements are typically near a water source, foxes will have access to that as well. Many gardeners also choose to provide bird baths or other water sources on their property, and this makes great habitat for all edge species, including foxes. A bushy yard near a field or forest is a great environment for a red fox, since they benefit from both the human environment and the natural landscape. And suburban environments offer fields where they can hunt, ditches with food and water, and woody parks which offer cover, safety, food, and denning opportunities. A great environment means large litter sizes, and high survival rates among young. The Wilderness City is the perfect environment for a red fox, and the perfect place for fox populations to thrive.

So human environments are great for red foxes, but how are red foxes great for people? As we’ve seen, our environments attract a variety of animals that people find a nuisance. Mice, rats, voles, and pigeons are all things that people don’t enjoy having in or around their house. Fallen fruit such as crab apples and berries attract mice into our yards, and without foxes, these animals can cause problems for people. Luckily, these animals are all great food sources for foxes. And people generally find foxes cute and enjoyable to observe. They aren’t threatening, even to children, and they generally won’t go after a full grown healthy cat. Foxes generally don’t cause problems for people who don’t have chickens or rabbits that they keep outside, and even then, modern fencing is good enough to often keep these animals safe. Foxes can carry rabies, which can cause problems for people, but in the Yukon, rabies is thankfully not a common disease. People have traditionally enjoyed keeping cats to help curb the rodent population, but cats also kill songbirds, and are one of the leading causes of songbird decline in North America. Foxes generally don’t kill songbirds, and subsist mostly on rodents and whatever they can scavenge. In other words, they eat what we don’t like.

Red foxes are the perfect species for urban populations, and because of this mutually beneficial relationship, fox populations will continue to grow and thrive alongside people. Come see our two resident red foxes next time you’re at the Wildlife Preserve!
This interpretetive panel is placed next to our fully fundraised Red Fox exhibit. It shares the story of red fox success across the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic to urban enviroments.

Photo credit: Danette Moule

Danette Moulé

Danette Moulé

Wildlife Interpreter

Danette is new to working at the Wildlife Preserve, but not new to appreciating it! Danette currently lives between the Yukon in summers, and BC / Alberta in the winters. She holds a Master's of Natural Resource Management, and has always been a big appreciator of wildlife and our natural world. Danette was raised in the mountains of western Canada, and is enjoying getting to know the north.

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