Kootenay National Park of Canada
The Badger - A Species at Risk
In British Columbia, two studies are assessing the badger populations and ecology. Badgers are hard to study as they are nocturnal, secretive animals and are seldom seen. This research uses a technique called radio-telemetry to follow the badgers' movements. Badgers are fitted with a transmitter that emits a radio signal and tracked both by plane and on the ground. Researchers hope to find out how many badgers are out there and what effects people and their activities have on these animals.
Using radio-telemetry equipment to track badger movement.© N. Newhouse
The East Kootenay Badger Study
The East Kootenay Badger Study, led by biologist Nancy Newhouse, began in 1996 and was the first intensive radio-telemetry study of badgers in Canada. Parks Canada is one of many partners involved in this project.
How badgers are studied?
The researchers trap the badgers at their burrows. The badger is then anaesthetized and a transmitter is surgically implanted. This is done at a veterinary hospital or in the field using a portable gas unit for the anaesthetic. (Unlike most other mammals, a badger cannot wear a radio collar because it would slip off its wedge-shaped head). Samples of blood, scat, hair and an upper pre-molar tooth are taken from the study animals to assess their health, diet and age.
The badgers are tracked using radio-telemetry, first by aircraft to locate the animal and then on the ground to follow it to its burrow. This technique provides important data about seasonal movements and home ranges while minimizing disturbance to the animal.
What have we learned?
The results from six years of telemetry studies indicate that badger numbers in the East Kootenays are very low about 60 breeding adults. There appear to be small pockets of healthy badger populations in some areas but they have been eliminated from other areas.
Badgers favour dry, open habitats grasslands, agricultural fields and open-canopied forests. They need soil appropriate for burrowing. Badger burrows are often located near Columbian ground squirrel burrows.
In the East Kootenays, the home ranges of female badgers average 50km², while the home ranges of male badgers average 450 km². These home ranges are 10 to 200 times larger than in areas studied in the United States. The researchers suggest that large home ranges here may be due to few animals expanding into the available area. Male badgers tend to make long forays beyond the core of their home range. One male traveled from the valley bottom to the alpine three times. Why he did this is not known, perhaps to search for a female or to feed on marmots.
About one third of the radio-tagged animal died. Collisions with cars and trains as well as kills by predators were the main causes of death. The mortality of juvenile badgers was especially high (75%), similar to studies elsewhere.
In the East Kootenays, the badger's favorite food is the Columbian ground squirrel, but they also eat voles, sparrows, loons, fish and even beetles.
The reproductive success of badgers in the East Kootenays is low. Over a third of radio-tagged females failed to have kits over the study period.
Where do we go from here?
We now have a better estimate of the number of badgers and their habitat needs. Because of this research, the subspecies of badger in British Columbia was recently upgraded from not at risk 'to endangered' by COSEWIC. The East Kootenay badger researchers and their partners are involved in a variety of conservation efforts including:
- Public Education
Presentations, school programs, brochures, magazine and newspaper articles and even a television program are connecting people to badgers. Most people have never seen a badger and are unaware of its ecology or the fact that it is endangered.
- Private Stewardship
In the East Kootenay, most badger habitat is on private land. During this study, land-owners who participated in the capture of badgers on their property developed sense of stewardship towards these animals. Land-owners are encouraged to be tolerant of badgers and to protect burrows from disturbance.
- Input into Land-use Planning
Researchers have provided information about home ranges and habitat to regional governments so badgers will be considered in land-use plans.
- Badger Recovery Team
Another spin-off from these studies is the formation of a National Badger Recovery Team. Its goal is to develop and carry out a recovery plan for the jeffersonii subspecies of badger. It includes researchers, ranchers, First Nations, industry and government agencies. Parks Canada is part of this team.
Badger recovery partners
- Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program
- Invermere Veterinary Hospital
- BC Parks
- East Kootenay Environmental Society
- Parks Canada
- Habitat Conservation Trust Fund
- Sylvan Consulting Ltd.