Counting the state animal proves to be a tricky endeavor.
Badgers are notoriously difficult to study. Not only do they spend all day in underground dens, emerging only by night to hunt — they can’t even be tracked using radio collars. The devices slip right off of their heads, which taper from shoulder to nose.
Badgers are so hard to work with, in fact, that researchers aren’t sure how many of them live in Wisconsin, even though the badger is our state animal.
“We don’t have a clue. We just don’t know much about badgers in Wisconsin,” says Jimmy Doyle x’14, a forest and wildlife ecology graduate student who has studied the reclusive carnivores as part of a joint UW–Madison project with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The Wisconsin Badger Study represents the first big effort in the state to better understand these animals. The project relies on surgically implanted radio transmitters to monitor the movements of badgers living in the southwestern part of the state and shed light on the landscapes where badgers prefer to live, where they prefer to hunt, how far they roam, whether their territories overlap, and much more.
But first, Doyle has to find and catch them.
Working with DNR research scientist David Sample MS’89, he has walked through scores of miles of grassland over the past two seasons looking for dens, setting traps, and then coaxing badgers into travel crates. The effort yielded three badgers in 2011, twelve in 2012, and four in 2013.
Once caught, the badgers are driven to Madison for a health exam and to have a small radio transmitter implanted just below the skin at the scruff of their necks. Doyle and his DNR collaborators can then track their movements at night from the comfort of an antenna-equipped truck — without ever needing to get near the animals again.
“They tend to be pretty feisty,” Doyle says. “There’s lots of snarling and snapping.”