New Brunswick has launched a two-week research study to determine the population density of skunks and raccoons in the province.
Traps baited with sardines will be set up in forested and agricultural areas near Saint John, Fredericton, Sussex and Woodstock to catch the wild animals.
““What we’re trying to do is sample three different habitat types that are most represented in the New Brunswick area and one of those areas is a urban habitat,” said Mike Allan, New Brunswick’s rabies control coordinator.
“We’ve never had a raccoon population density study done in New Brunswick before.”
The goal is to better understand the density of raccoon and skunk populations so that experts can determine how to best protect against rabies in the future.
New Brunswick’s Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries along with the Department of Energy and Resource development and the University of New Brunswick are partnering on the program.
“The population is estimated based on the number of recaptures… the initial captures is not that important to detail. What we want to know is how often do we encounter a previously marked animal,” said Joe Nocera, a professor at UNB. .”If our re-encounter rates are quite high we know that a population there would be lower than an area where we have fewer recaptures.”
So far, the oral rabies vaccine has been successful is reducing the number of rabies cases in the province.
The live traps do not pose a risk to any other animals, such as cats and dogs, but could trap them temporarily.
Pet owners are encouraged to keep dogs leashed and not to let animals roam areas where traps are set.
Raccoons and skunks that are caught will be ear-tagged and released.
The animals age and sex will also be recorded.
The data will then be used to help the province know where oral vaccination baits should be distributed in the future.
“Obviously people use a lot of live traps for personal control of critters, but for our department this is the first time we’ve had a large-scale project like this,” said Pam Seymour, a biologist with the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Resource Development.
“It is exciting.”
Traps started being set Monday and the study will continue until September 1.
Traps will be checked every weekday, but will be closed on Friday August 25 to ensure no animals are trapped over the weekend.
They will be reset Monday August 28 and removed September 1.