Wildlife populations in large parts of the Fagaras Mountains have suffered severely from poaching and overhunting throughout the last twenty years. Where once big herds of chamois or red deer roamed the peaks and forests, only scattered individuals are still around. Official numbers are usually overestimated or exaggerated on purpose to achieve higher hunting quotas.
The CARPATHIA project has set up an own hunters association with the goal to purchase hunting rights in the project area by auction, and to consequently fully protect wildlife. Since the end of 2011, the project controls hunting area nr. 21 “Dimbovita Headwaters” and has installed intensive anti-poaching measures and modern monitoring systems. We currently try to get control over additional hunting areas with the goal to create a hunting free area of over 50,000 ha.
Repeated estimates of wildlife population sizes or of an index are vital to determine if a population is increasing, decreasing, or stable and – where desired – to set hunting quotas that can be supported by the population. However, counting or obtaining reliable estimates of both ungulates and carnivore populations is extremely difficult as most of the forest species are elusive or rare.
While many commonly-used techniques rely on capturing, marking, or fitting of a transmitter to an animal (for example radio-telemetry through a collar, tags, inserts), it is CARPATHIA philosophy to use only non-invasive methods, without disturbance to the normal behaviour, ecology or physiology of the animal.
Basically we work with three categories of field methods: wildlife tracking, genetic sample collection, and, in the future, remote camera traps.
Interpreting the indirect evidence (tracks and other signs) left behind by wildlife continues to be a valuable skill in the modern fields of wildlife research and management. Besides species identification, tracks can be used to help determine home range, habitat use, and numbers of animals in a group. Excrements, in addition, deliver insight into diet and feeding habits and a thorough investigation of carcasses often allows determination of the predator.
Our rangers are all equipped with a GPS that allows fast data entry, so we continually record incidental wildlife signs. Being easier to spot, we monitor chamois also by direct observations on a foot transect along the alpine areas, surveyed several times a year. For tracking of wolves and lynx in our area, we rely on snow cover for creating consistent detection probabilities. However, in good winters we get a good overview of the number of wolf packs and pack members that are roaming our area and the number of lynx families.
Since recent years, non-invasive sampling of DNA allows genetic studies of free-ranging animals without catching or disturbing them. Besides individual identification, pedigree reconstruction, and sex identification, micro-satellite genotyping provides estimates of census and effective population size based on traditional ‘capture-mark-recapture’ methods. The underlying assumption is that the proportion of ‘marked’ individuals that are ‘recaptured’ is equal to its proportion in the entire population. Here, each genetic fingerprint is treated as a ‘mark’ and a ‘recapture’ is recorded whenever an identical genotype is found. This method provides the best and most robust statistical estimate of population size. We used this technique during a pilot study for bears, red deer, and wolves in FCC’s hunting ground “Izvorul Dimbovitei”.
Remote Camera Traps
Building on traditional trapping skills and knowledge used to capture the actual animal, we now can use modern technology to detect and study wildlife without directly interacting with or harming the animals. Remote camera traps are designed to capture images or video footage of wildlife making use of predicted travel routes and game trails. Also scent marking locations or strategically placed attractants can be used as to successfully locate a camera trap.