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Penticton  

Tracking big cats from sky

Researchers took to the sky Wednesday in search of data.

Data that’s contained in radio collars that were fixed to several bobcats and lynxes in the South Okanagan and Similkameen this winter.

The research, led by a PhD student from Trent University, is examining how the two species interact in the context of climate change by tracking the location of the cats through different habitats.

“The theory being, as the climate changes, bobcat range may expand and lynx may come into greater contact with them in the summertime,” said executive director of the Southern Interior Land Trust, Al Peatt, who is assisting the student in the research.

“Because they compete for the same resources, the fear is bobcat will force lynx out of the traditional areas.”

Eleven cats were collared last winter in the area between Penticton and Vaseux Lake as well an area near Hedley.

The collars track the locations of the bobcats and lynxes hourly, as well as temperature and accelerometer data.

All that information is stored on the collar, meaning researchers need to track them down using the radio signal they emit.

The majority of the collars simply fall off the cats in an area accessible by vehicle or foot, but in the cases where the collar failed to detach from the cat — or it detaches automatically in a deep ravine or gully — the researcher’s ground-based radio equipment cannot get a signal.

That's where the airplane comes in. Fitted with a pair of radio antennas that can receive the blasts sent out by the collars, it allows teams to fly directly over rough and remote terrain to acquire a location of the collar.

The aircraft and pilot has been donated by Lighthawk, a charity organization out of the United States that donates pilots and planes to conservation projects.

“I like to fly, but more importantly I’m very active in the outdoors,” said Lighthawk volunteer pilot Dave Riffle. “This is a way that I can give back a little bit, it’s not cheap to operate an aircraft, but it’s something that I can help with.”

The data collected by the collars will hopefully help forest managers better manage habitat requirements for the big cats moving forward.



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