Notes from the Field: Recovering American Martens

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is continuing its efforts on an American marten conservation project in the Manistee National Forest. This spring, I was given the exciting opportunity to assist collaborators from Grand Valley State University and Busch Gardens on this project. Martens are small, weasel-like carnivores that became extirpated (locally extinct) from the lower peninsula of Michigan in the early 1900s because of habitat loss and unregulated trapping. Martens were reintroduced back to the Manistee Forest more than 30 years ago, and since 2013, veterinary and animal care staff from the DZS have been helping to study the success of the marten reintroduction by looking at animal health, kit survival and habitat use. This work involves collecting martens in live traps and then anesthetizing them in order to perform physical exams and collect samples of blood, hair, urine and feces. The DZS uses Hav-A-Heart traps, humane traps that close in such a way that they do not harm the animal. The traps are set carefully to ensure that martens have a nice snug spot. We cover each trap with pine needles and leaves for warmth and nest building, and ensure the martens have a snack and a source of water. The collected samples are then tested for disease. The project also uses GPS and radio tracking collars to gather information on marten habitat use and determines which forest types they prefer.

My time spent in Manistee involved daily morning checks of approximately 30-40 live traps for martens. If a marten is in a trap, it is then transported to the bed of a pickup truck in order to induce anesthesia and be examined. Special care is taken to monitor the marten’s body temperature to be sure that it does not become too hot or too cold during the procedure, and after samples are collected, a GPS collar may be placed on the marten to track habitat use. When the procedure is complete, the marten recovers in a small, dark wooden box until it is stable enough to be released. Once stable, a staff member opens a little door on the box and the marten runs off back into the forest. This entire process usually takes about 30 minutes from beginning to end.

During my time assisting with the project, I spent many hours riding down narrow, bumpy and winding two-track forest trails. Some of these trails were quite precarious, but travelling them gave me the opportunity to see migrating birds, deer, a porcupine and even a black bear! We were able to collect samples from four martens and place GPS collars on three of those four, dramatically increasing the amount of data collected on marten habitat use. These GPS collars were purchased with financial support from the DZS, and the data will be used in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service to decide how the forest can best be managed to facilitate recovery of the marten population. It was thrilling to be a part of this project and I am thankful to the DZS for allowing me this opportunity.

– Erica Campbell is a veterinary technician for the Detroit Zoological Society and works in the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex at the Detroit Zoo.

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