Scientists work to uncover secrets of mystery mammal

8:15 AM, Feb 4, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - Western New York is indeed blessed with an abundance of wildlife, both rural and urban, and much of it is fairly visible even to the casual observer, but a lot of our native animal life remains deeply hidden.

The Fisher is an elusive member of the weasel family that few people are fortunate enough to observe in the wild. The NY DEC, in conjunction with Medaille College, is currently conducting an extensive study of this secretive, yet fascinating mammal.

Once almost completely extirpated from the state, the Fisher is now making a comeback. Ken Baginski is a Wildlife Biologist with the NY DEC. "Over several years, maybe last five years or so, we've noticed an increase in the number of observations and sightings we're getting from hunters and trappers and from the general public, so we wanted to get a better understanding of what's going on with our Fisher populations across the Southern Tier."

To do so, Wildlife Biologists have set up trail cameras in strategic locations throughout the region. The cameras have produced some amazing photos, and the evidence produced has been an unexpected and welcome surprise. "We've gotten confirmed Fisher photographs at fifteen of the twenty nine sites, which is way better than I ever expected," said Baginski.

Anne Rothrock is another DEC Wildlife Biologist working on the study. "We're finding that there are more and more, their range is expanding, and we're just trying to get a better handle on how the population is doing, where they are, and how they use the habitat."

The DEC team recently experienced an added bonus; a live capture of a young female Fisher. It was a big event even for the most experienced Wildlife Biologist! Rothrock was the first to discover the Fisher. "It's always exciting when you're checking traps, but when I came down to the first one and saw that the door was closed I was extremely excited, then saw the tracks which looked like Fisher tracks so that helped me figure that what I caught was in fact a Fisher."

The young mammal was fitted with a surgically implanted radio transmitter the morning of her capture and returned to her home that afternoon. The information gathered will provide new insight into the animal's life. DEC Wildlife Biologist Ken Roblee explains." The telemetry works should tell us how big of a home range they have, how many Fisher we might expect to see in the future on the landscape here, and hopefully we'll get a picture of the habitats that are important to Fisher as they work out their life history here."

After a couple of years, the plan is to re-capture the Fisher and safely remove the transmitter. In the meantime, the information gathered will also benefit aspiring WNY biologists. Roblee also teaches Mammology at Medaille College and his students will soon have a great chance to extend their learning to the field. "This is an opportunity to introduce them to what is done in the field working with wildlife, more so than with lab specimens or domestic species. This is a chance to learn about some pretty unusual animals that are on the landscape in WNY."

The study is a fascinating glimpse into the secret life of one of the forests' most interesting creatures. It's also a reflection of the depth of life throughout WNY, even if most are unaware of it's very existence, says Baginski. "It's very interesting for those even that aren't out all the time. The general public, they don't even know these animals exist, so when they do see photos and the things we're doing with them, they're usually astonished that we even have this type of animal in the area."

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