Physical examination and collaring

Fisher versus Possum
Fisher versus Possum

Capturing an animal means that we will sedate it so that we can give it a thorough exam, take important measurements, and give it an appropriate transmitter. With some species of animals sedation is not necessary, but with fishers it is essential. They would be a danger to us and themselves if we tried to handle them without sedation. During the procedure we coax them into a handling cone where we can safely administer the sedative.

After a few minutes the animal is generally sufficiently sedated to be handled without concern that it will struggle or injure itself. After assuring the animal is sedated we remove it from the handling cone and immediately weigh it. This gives some indication of age and overall condition (though its not a complete story).

During the time animals are under sedation they are constantly monitored to ensure their vital rates (heart rate, breathing, temperature) are within a safe range. If they begin to fall or rise we see the trend and can respond before things get to dangerous levels.

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After we evaluate an animal to make sure it is doing well, we begin a series of steps. First we take swabs that can later be tested for exposure to diseases like distemper. The animals is then given a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag so that it can be identified if we ever capture it again. The digits associated with this tag become the official ID of the animal for the remainder of the study. Next we draw blood from the fisher so that we can evaluate disease, obtain genetic information, hormone levels, and other information. The animals general condition and age is assessed by examining key traits like sagittal crest development, the level of teeth wear (young animals have white sharp teeth), size, and amounts of fat on the body.

Next we take measurements of different parts of the body like the total length, head length, neck circumference, canine tooth length and the list continues. All this can seem a little hectic but someone is always overseeing the process (usually Dr. Deana Clifford our esteemed veterinarian), recording data and letting us know to check on the animals’ vital rates and condition. If the animals is going to be translocated it gets vaccines for distemper, canine-parvo virus, and medications to kill internal and external parasites so that nothing foreign or novel is introduced a long with the fishers. We also collect any parasites we can.

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After (and sometimes during) all this we being trying to fit a satellite or radio-collar to the animal. This is in principle a really easy task. Just put the collar on loose enough so that it is not confining to the animal but tight enough that it won’t come off. Sometimes we spend a lot of time making sure we get this right, because it really is exceedingly important that a collar fits well. Too loose and we get little or no date, and too tight and we may injure the animal. We always error on fitting a collar too loose if we have any doubt, but we prefer to get it just right.

All of this takes about 30 minutes to an hour depending on how things progress. At the end of it we have a data sheet full of information and a fisher that we can begin tracking.

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