Snow-tracking wolves, lynx and wolverine in Finland
I had my first real taste of large carnivore fieldwork when I spent 2 winter months as an intern with Lupus Laetus in North Karelia, Finland snow-tracking predators. Finland is home to four of Europe’s five large carnivores: brown bear (Ursus arctos), grey wolf (Canis lupus), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) and wolverine (Gulo gulo). Bears hibernate over the winter months so I was helping to track wolves, lynx and wolverines.
Most days we would spend the daylight hours (~10:00 – 15:30) driving accessible roads looking for tracks, or on-foot following tracks we had found from the car. The usual routine was to drive until we found tracks, then one or two people would follow the tracks in either direction whilst recording the route with a handheld GPS. This sounds easy until you consider that these animals are far more capable of travelling through thick snow (on occasion up to my waist), along frozen rivers, across frozen lakes, through dense undergrowth and forests, going up and down steep cliffs, and even crossing the border into Russia! On a typical day of tracking, depending on the terrain, I probably walked 10-15 km.
Whilst following tracks we would frequently find scat, which would we collect, and prey remains. If tracking lynx, the prey remains were usually the fur of mountain hare, in which case we just took photos and marked the location on the GPS. If however we were tracking wolves and came across a large mammal carcass, such as a moose, then we would deploy a camera trap in the hope that the wolves would return to the kill site. On one occasion whilst tracking a wolverine we found a site where the animal had dug up a previous cache it had buried under the snow. Any scat we collected was processed back at the house and combed through to identify what the animals had been eating:
I had an amazing time during this placement and would return to the Finnish wilderness at the drop of a hat. I even got to see some incredible wildlife whilst there including wolves (one actually walked through our garden), golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, red squirrels, an adder who definitely shouldn’t have been out in the subzero temperatures, and a mountain hare that was following behind in our tracks through the snow, presumably because we’d cleared the way!