San Dieguito River Valley ConservancySan Dieguito
River Valley Conservancy

Studying Carnivores


Then, once the animal is safely captured, a trained scientist gives them special medicine to sleep while they fit them with their collar and an identifying ear tag – almost like a special earring. Then, just like when you go to the doctor for a check up, the scientist also collect samples like blood and hair, takes their temperature, and listens to their heart. This allows the scientists to assess the health of the carnivore and make sure they are doing okay. The scientist then stays nearby to watch the animal wake up and return safely back to the wild.

Now with the camera traps, the data we collect comes in the form of photos. However, with the tracking collars, the data comes in the form of the small dots you see here on this map. This aerial map is located in Ramona, California and displays several different dots. Each dot represents a data point of when the GPS informed us where the bobcat might be. Each color represents an individual bobcat. Looking at this photo, what are some things you notice about the dots and the movement of these animals.

The first thing you might notice – is how many colors there are. This data represents that there are  4 different bobcats, as indicated by the 4 different colors. You might also notice that some of the 

different colors clump together and some of the colors, like the blue dots are spread out over a long distance. What do you think this might mean? How are the bobcats moving?  

Another question, we should ask is why are they are moving? What might be some reasons animals might move around? If you said things along the lines of finding food or shelter, or maybe finding a bobcat mate, or maybe even just running away from another predator – these are all great examples of why these animals might move around the landscape. 

Here is another example of these collar tracks – this map is located in Los Penasquitos Canyon, in San Diego, Ca. What do you notice about this map as a whole? In terms of how many tracks or colors? Where are they going? Are there other features on this map, that might make it different to the last one?

So similar to the last photo, we have what looks like four different colors or animals and you might notice, based off their tracks that they are staying in a relatively defined area – right here within this canyon. Based off of other things you might notice in this picture? Why do you think this is?

For those who might be unfamiliar with this area – this canyon is surrounded by houses in grey and what’s more these bright yellow lines that you see are freeways. Needless to say, if you are one of the bobcats represented in these tracks, do you think it’s as easy to find food, water, shelter. What might some of the challenges be?

This is another important reason why scientists use camera traps and tracking collars to study these animals. With increasing human development and the impacts of climate change that we will discuss a little later – it has become harder and harder for these animals to move around in the ecosystem. Thus, scientists study carnivores this way to help them.

Did you know that we can create special bridges or tunnels to help carnivores and other animals cross roads safely so they don’t have to dodge cars?

Carnivores can’t necessarily use a crosswalk like you and I, instead they use culverts or tunnels, like the one pictured here.