Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the director of conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.
I recently returned to northern Michigan with staff from the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), Grand Valley State University (GVSU), and Busch Gardens to continue studying the behavioral ecology and conservation of American martens. American martens are small carnivores that are weasel-like and largely arboreal, which means that they live in trees. They were hunted out in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula by the early 1900’s and reintroduced to the Manistee National Forest nearly 30 years ago.
We are studying the success of marten reintroduction by looking at marten health, survival of their offspring, known as kits, and habitat use. These data will be used to see how the forest can be better managed by the U.S. Forest Service to benefit martens.
DZS veterinarians have helped in the past to put radio-telemetry collars on the martens to track their locations. However, this technique, which involves capturing the martens in live traps, is very labor-intensive, and only provides information on marten locations a few times per week. The DZS provided funds for GPS collars that use satellite positioning data to record marten locations every half hour and gather much more accurate information on marten ranging and habitat use. In fact, we’ve been able to retrieve data from one of the collared martens and it is giving us great information on how the marten is using his habitat.
During this visit, our task was to help set the live traps with venison as a tasty treat for the martens and placing a stinky concoction called “Gusto” around the traps to attract martens from far away. We captured one marten, but as it turns out, that marten had been previously collared. This marten was special, however, because it had been orphaned and fed by GVSU students until its independence. The marten’s mother had been found dead on the side of the road, so the students decided to catch mice and leave kitten chow for the young martens left behind until they reached adulthood.
We also had the opportunity to follow two other martens wearing radio-telemetry collars. We were able to see the tree dens they were using and observe the martens high up in the trees. All in all, it was a wonderful trip.
– Paul Buzzard