Wildlife Research & Projects: January, 2009

Where endangered Indiana Bats roost

Biologists are just beginning a year-long project to study the roosting ecology of endangered Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats. The project will take researchers into the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its neighbors, the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. These areas are at the southern edge of the Indiana bat’s range in the United States.

In these coldest months of the winter, lead researcher Joy O’Keefe and collaborator Dr. Susan Loeb of the Southern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service will hire forestry technicians and prepare radio telemetry equipment. Beginning in June, they will conduct mist net surveys (which involves stringing a very fine net across the corridors where bats fly to catch them). They will carefully identify each bat’s species, sex, and age, and then measure forearm length and weight. To mark the bats, researchers will place a unique band on each bat’s leg, and glue a tiny radio transmitter between its shoulder blades. This transmitter will allow the researchers to track the bats’ movements during the day, to figure out which trees they choose for day roosts.

Ultimately, the biologists hope to figure out why bats choose the trees they do. This is important to know because many forest management decisions in National Parks and Forests revolve around protecting the endangered Indiana bat. It’s harder to protect an animal when we don’t know where, or why, the animal chooses the habitats it does.

In August, the researchers hope to have enough data collected to describe where the bats roost; the characteristics of the trees that they chose; the number, health, and sex of bats in each colony; how far the bats go between roost trees; and what the bats do in between the times they roost.

Wild hog control—looking back from the start of a new season

In the early 1900s, a local rancher brought about two dozen European wild boars to North Carolina to stock his hunting ranch. The boars were wily and escaped, becoming the feral (domestic turned to wild) hogs we recognize today. Over the past century they have spread throughout the mountainous forests of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The hogs root out native plants, destroy streambanks (and habitat for salamanders, trout, and other sensitive wildlife), and carry diseases that can sicken or even kill wildlife and domestic pets and livestock. Wildlife managers therefore try to find and remove the hogs in the Park. In 2007, wildlife managers removed 274 wild hogs from the Park: 141 (51.5 percent of the total) in North Carolina and 133 (48.5 percent of the total) in Tennessee. Most of the animals (175, or about 64 percent) removed were adults. In past years, the Park moved trapped hogs onto state hunting lands in North Carolina or Tennessee, although in 2007 they did not. They did collect genetic samples from 14 hogs, and sent them to researchers at the University of North Dakota. The samples are part of a large scale survey that will determine genetic origins and expansion patterns of feral hogs in North America.

Wildlife managers captured hogs at the following locations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Chilhowee - 4 hogs (1.5%)
Deep Creek - 57 hogs (20.8%)
Cataloochee - 11 hogs (4.0%)
Oconaluftee - 24 hogs (8.8%)
Cosby - 19 hogs (6.9%)
Cades Cove - 56 hogs (20.4%)
Little River - 33 hogs (12.0%)
Backcountry, generally - 19 hogs (6.9%)
Twentymile - 51 hogs (18.6%)

Monitoring disease in wild hogs: positive tests suggest threat to native wildlife

Wildlife managers continued to work cooperatively with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to monitor for wild hog diseases. These include swine brucellosis, pseudorabies (which is actually a form of herpes, as is chicken pox in people, and which is also called “the mad itch), and hog cholera (classic swine fever). Serological samples were collected from 156 (about 57 percent total) of the hogs removed from the park. Of these, nine hogs from North Carolina and one hog from Tennessee tested seropositive for pseudorabies, which alters their ability to reproduce. Most significant, this disease can spread to the Park’s native wildlife, harming bears, coyotes, foxes, and other animals that come into contact with the hogs. It is fatal to canines of all kinds, including coyotes and your pet poodle (another reason to keep Fido at home and off the trails).

Backcountry bears

In 2007, bear researchers from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville completed their 39th year of ongoing field studies on black bears. This research included locating and visiting bears in their den trees. Scientists visited ten female bears during the winter season: six females reproduced, with litter sizes from one to three cubs, one had a yearling bear, and three had neither cubs nor yearlings. In the summer, researchers collected bear hair samples from 79 percent of their barbed-wire hair traps, for a total of 1,811 bear hair samples. Given the high rate of collection from this sampling method, the potential for this approach to serve as an effective population monitoring technique is high. Unfortunately, the researchers did not receive funding for analysis, so they cannot compare the mark-recapture based population estimate with other methods that year.

Managers also dealt with so called “problem bears.” From February 27 to December 15, 2007 biologists received 257 bear management reports. Of these, 34 resulted in estimated property damages, which totaled $5,373. Managers noted that two thirds of the reports that listed some monetary loss did not estimate how much damage the bear caused, probably because the bears destroyed low-cost items (water bottles, food, or other small things) or because people were camping or storing food illegally and didn’t want to admit it.

Most bear activity in popular areas included campgrounds--Cades Cove, Cosby, and Elkmont-- and picnic areas--Cades Cove, Chimneys, Collins Creek, Cosby, and Metcalf Bottoms. Bears also roamed around the Smoky Mountains Riding Stables, the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center, and at the Mt. LeConte Lodge. In the backcountry, visitors reported bears frequenting 60 percent of backcountry shelters, but only 16 percent of backcountry campsites. Biologists put up signs at 21 locations, and ultimately they closed seven backcountry campsites, one shelter, and Little Brier Gap trail due to bear activity.

Over the year, managers captured 15 individual bears (10 males and 5 females). They relocated five of the captured bears, two to areas within Great Smoky Mountains National park and three to the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. Five captured bears were known to die; two were euthanized for management reasons, one died during handling and two were later struck and killed by vehicles. Wildlife and Visitor Protection staff also used non-lethal aversive conditioning techniques (noise, capture, bean-bag-shooting, and more) 13 times on bears.

Return to Resource Roundup: January, 2009.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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