At the beginning of May, at the end of the winter, which on the mountains of north east Turkey lasts unexpectedly long, it was finally time to go into the field and check on the status of the bears that we collared in October 2012, and to deploy the new collars kindly provided by the Georges und Antoine Claraz Foundation.
Of the seven GPS collars deployed last year we were only able to re-locate five, and at present the fate of two bears/collars remains unknown. The bears may have abandoned the study area, may have died in a place not accessible to us, or simply the collars may have stopped working. The team based in Turkey will, however, continue looking for them.
While searching for one of the collars, Mark (a PhD Student from Sekercioglu Lab, Utah University) and I ended up reaching one of the highest and partially covered with snow ‘hills’ within the study area. Unfortunately, instead of spotting a moving bear wearing a fancy necklace we found the collar lying without owner on the snow. What happened was quite obvious: after re-emerging from hibernation the bear was so underweight that with ‘a bit’ of effort (the steal brackets of the collar have been bent!!!) he managed to slip the collar of his neck. Luckily the four other bears are doing fine and they are all moving around the forest. One of the two collared females was “kind” and let us approach close enough to see that she was accompanied by one new-born cub. It will be interesting to see how the presence of the cub restricts her movements and use of her territory.
After checking on the status of the bears collared last year, we focused on capturing some more bears to increase our small sample size. Together with Josip Kusak, Emrah Coban and Ayşegül Karaahmetoğlu, who in the meantime joined us in Sarikamis (the closest town to the study area) Mark and I started setting traps to catch the bears. The traps consist of a bait, a cubby (small enclosure built with branches that have the scope of forcing the bears to step in a particular place) and a foot snare at each entrance of the cubby. Within few days we managed to successfully capture three bears and fit them with GPS radio collars. We still have one collar in hand that the guys who are still in Turkey (I had to come back to CH) will try to deploy in the next days.
Exciting enough, our bear traps have been quite successful in capturing wolves… and within only ten days of bear capturing we trapped three wolves! This for the joy of Josip, who despite a life trapping wolves never managed to trap them with snares set for bears, and of the rest of the team who could not believe the luck! The three wolf collars to our disposal got so deployed within ten days only instead of the planned 6 weeks… (wolf project is a collaboration between KuzeyDoga and Ministry of Forest Management)
Our bear sample size is back to seven individuals and hopefully, in few days, after the last collar will be deployed, eight. Slowly we are getting to a reasonable sample size to start having interesting and exciting results!
Keep checking the blog from time to time for more updates on the bear project!