Pine marten kits provide lesson in human intervention
ANOTHER LIFE:ONE OF THE DUTIES of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, as ordained by the EU’s habitats directive, is to keep a tally of the wildlife killed on the roads, or at least of those mammals whose welfare might concern us. As sightings flow into the biodiversity website biology.ie, little flags are hoisted on the excellent interactive maps of its major-domo, Paul Whelan.
At this point in the year the flags crowd the routes of the nation’s motorways; on some maps they blanket whole regions of the island.
As I write, the tolls for 2012 run as follows: badgers, 967; hedgehogs, 682; foxes, 597; hares, 171; otters, 99; pine martens, 133. Cats, for comparison, 249, and dogs, 33.
My drawing, of a young pine marten, celebrates one that got away from a road kill and was snapped a week or so ago peering down from a big Sitka spruce in Letterkeen Forest, at the edge of Co Mayo’s national park.
His story – it is a male – introduces a happier and largely unsung development in Ireland’s wildlife conservation.
Back in June a Limerick ecologist, Gavin Fennessy, spotted a furry disaster at the edge of a road near Castlebar. A litter of pine-marten kits were scrambling about their mother’s dead body, crying and trying to suckle her. He rang the Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Trust (IWRT) for help and the eight-week-old kits were captured, with the aid of a local NPWS ranger, and taken to the Kildare Animal Foundation. This centre cares mostly for dogs and cats but is open to other wild animals in trouble.
Here a wildlife rehabilitator, Dan Donoher, reared the young martens on milk substitute and, later, a mixed diet of dead young chicks, quail, fruit, insects, raw eggs and small dead rodents (a painstaking match for the marten’s omnivorous appetite). Then the kits returned to Mayo for the rare opportunity of releasing them to the wild, then tracking their ranges, movements and feeding habits through VHF radio collars. These were fitted to two of the three surviving kits on September 8th, and they conveniently escaped from their forest enclosure a few days later.
The tracking project is led by Dr Derek McLoughlin, an ecologist with Sligo Institute of Technology, who has already used telemetry in tracking north Mayo’s last rare colony of breeding twites, finches so small as to leave little purchase for any transmitter. For his marten trackers he recruited and trained two students, and a volunteer team of amateur and professional enthusiasts. (One of them, Ger Rogan, took the photograph used for my illustration below.) Their stealthy progress through the lofty but prickly Letterkeen forest may be monitored in a daily log at iwrt.ie/pages/News-pinemarten.html.
The IWRT, based at Duleek, Co Meath, is a young organisation, out to upskill and focus Ireland’s somewhat scattered efforts at rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife casualties. Battered or orphaned on the roads, caught in barbed wire fences, flying into turbines or cables, oiled or stranded on beaches, or just brutally mistreated, they will benefit from the expert, practical advice laid out in the website mounted by the IWRT in 2010, irishwildlifematters.ie.