All photos by Dr. Karl Larsen. Video by Val Collins.
Karl Larsen has been studying badgers since 1998 but always observed these rare animals out of town. So you can imagine his surprise when a female burrowed a den in the embankment across the road from his office window in early May. Soon afterward Trudy, as she affectionately became known, had a litter of three youngsters.
“I could actually see her burrow from my window before the vegetation leafed up,” Larsen recalls. A faculty member in Natural Resource Sciences whose office is in the Faculty Annex by the Gathering Place, Larsen was thrilled to have a front row seat to observe the badgers’ comings and goings and general playing around.
“She gave birth there and kept the kits in that burrow for the first few weeks,” he says. “Based on sightings, she was probably going up above the Facilities warehouse to forage.”
Making the discovery all the more exciting for Larsen is the fact that the badger population is low in British Columbia. The badgers.bc.ca website puts the number at about 350, with the majority in the Interior’s grasslands and dry forests.
A motion sensitive wildlife camera placed close to the den opening documented the badgers with still and video images. Larsen’s student research assistant Valerie Law, who is researching grey squirrels and not badgers, helped with the documenting and learned more from the experience than she anticipated.
“It hit me how sweet this project was when I saw the mamma badger on tape for the first time,” Law says. “She’s so large and here she was staring right into the camera.”
The camera recorded a coyote as a frequent visitor, and observed Trudy bringing the badger diet of small mammals like mice, a juvenile marmot and a pocket gopher back to her burrow.
“I don’t know what I was expecting at first, but it definitely wasn’t as cool as the reality,” adds Law. “Beside this opportunity being a great learning experience, it was fun to be able to essentially live the life of a badger for a month through this footage.”
May 22 was the last day Trudy and the kits were observed at the burrow opposite Larsen’s office. Within days, the family was spotted about 200 metres away near the pay station in the parking lot separating the Science building and McGill student housing—a great location in many respects, but as a hub of foot and vehicle traffic, Trudy and her children started gaining attention. Their location was disclosed through word of mouth and photos posted to social media, and after a few days the family left on May 29. A few days later a badger family was spotted in the Mt. Paul Industrial Park on the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc reserve, but photos showed them as different from the TRU group.
Larsen could only speculate where Trudy and her family went from there, because tagging was not done in order to minimize the impact on the family. A few days later, however, a badger was reported living under a homeowner’s deck in Dufferin, just a two-minute drive from Larsen’s home. With the camera back in action, he concluded the creature was one of Trudy’s sons, based on the animal’s fur markings stretching from forehead to nose. The whereabouts of the others is not known.
The Sauka family was thrilled by their unexpected guest, not just for the novelty factor, but because its foraging included a population of about 10 marmots in the area.
“We started noticing the marmots were disappearing and we couldn’t figure out why,” said Tracey Sauka. “I didn’t know the badger was living under the deck until I was out painting the back of the fence and it jumped out and hissed at me.”
That proved to be the only negative interaction during the nearly two weeks as Sauka put the painting on hold and limited the her family’s activity on and around the deck.
With time for the badger to get accustomed to living on its own, the Dufferin home was an ideal location, Larsen says, for the ready food supply of marmots and whatever else lived in the wild green space bordering the home, as well as the room to safely walk about. That said, the green space also borders the highway.
“The number one killer of badgers in BC is vehicles,” he says. “That’s the number one obstacle from keeping them on the planet.”
Larsen suggests maybe the two families points to something more positive. “I hope this is a sign that badger numbers are recovering somewhat on the landscape, and not some reflection of a loss of natural habitat.”