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In the field – Education staff vlog in Grasslands National Park

What is it like to visit the Conservation Research team during their fieldwork? Calgary Zoo Educator Melissa Ledingham got the chance this summer, and gave us a peek of the experience in her vlog!

Each year the Calgary Zoo’s Conservation Research team hits the field in the spring and summer, working on a myriad of conservation projects. Carrying out studies in the animal’s natural environments and collecting data is an integral part of studying conservation species like black-tailed prairie dogs, burrowing owls and leopard frogs.

During the summer of 2016, a group of individuals from the zoo’s Education department joined the Conservation team on one of their treks to Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.

The Conservation Research team in Grasslands National Park.

The Conservation Research team in Grasslands National Park.

How did we the team document? Andrea Beaty captured it all in her journal, while the zoos Corporate Program Coordinator for Outreach Education, Melissa Ledingham, vlogged a portion of her visit to the iconic home of the black-tailed prairie dogs. 

From the video footage, you can see that Melissa and the group of educators camped out in the park, and then rose early in the morning, working side by side with conservation staff. During this specific trip they were monitoring the prairie dogs, creating safe release traps to tag them (seen in the video above), among other techniques that aid the researchers’ efforts to preserve the threatened species.

Safe traps for black-tailed prairie dogs set by the Conservation Research team.

Safe traps for black-tailed prairie dogs set by the Conservation Research team.

This experience wasn’t just vlogging- Melissa quickly had a first-hand experience with black-tailed prairie dogs in their natural environment. While the video above only shows the beginning of her trip, she was able to help with the release of the prairie dogs caught, and also observed burrowing owls… and a surprise bison!

The traps used are safe for the black-tailed prairie dogs, baiting them to enter by using a yummy treat of oats and peanut butter. Each trap is covered so the captured mammals don’t get scorched in the hot sun while they’re waiting for the researchers to reach them.

Once they do, the Calgary Zoo team measure the individual, checks for fleas and ticks, give them a small tracker, and paint them with a non-toxic stripe on their back- researchers don’t want to be accidentally catching the same prairie dogs every time!

Conservation research team members measure the plots in which they are capturing the prairie dog data.

Conservation research team members measure the plots in which they are capturing the prairie dog data.

Those captured prairie dogs are then released back to their burrows so the team can study their habits. Field work in Conservation Research can be an exhausting experience, with long hours, but Melissa was thrilled by the opportunity to help her fellow employees. Every trip to the field is an opportunity to gather data, and to help save these iconic animals.

Preserving Canadian species is well work the effort.


Learn more about the zoo’s work in conservation and about the work we do in Canada and across the world.

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