During the months of May and June, seven kangaroo rats were captured at a highly productive patch of habitat on provincial lands in Alberta and relocated about 20 km to a recently unoccupied patch of habitat. Six animals were ‘soft’ released into below-ground artificial nests constructed to provide shelter and food for the animals, and a seventh individual was ‘hard’ released at the site. Researchers checked burrows regularly over the summer to determine the status of each individual and monitor whether they were able to establish themselves in their new homes.

Entrance to artificial nest at release site of one kangaroo that has tracks indicating recent activity.

At each of six soft release sites, there was clear sign of subsequent activity indicating that each animal used the artificial nests at the soft release site to begin establishing a new home. Unfortunately, the individual that was hard released was not captured again, although it is possible that it established itself in the local area and was not detected.

Continued monitoring revealed that our translocated kangaroo rats met challenges to maintain their nests over the summer. By late August, all artificial nests used for relocation appeared abandoned. Two nests appear to have been depredated by coyotes or foxes. One nest was destroyed (collapsed) apparently by an ungulate (most likely mule deer that frequent the area), and another appears to have been collapsed by heavy rains. Two nests showed signs of activity in July, but appeared abandoned by mid-August. Foot surveys in the local area failed to detect any evidence of kangaroo rat activity at the site in August (e.g., tracks, burrows), so it is presumed that the animals have either dispersed from this site to other habitats or they did not survive. Further surveys will be conducted in October (weather permitting) and spring 2013 to determine long-term establishment.

Juvenile kangaroo rat captured at high-quality source site.

In 2013, a goal of the project will be to conduct translocations at higher quality sites in Alberta to maximize the likelihood of successful establishment. Given the short-term success of the soft-releases, similar release techniques will be employed, although researchers have now documented the need to employ radio transmitters to track the fate of released animals. It is hoped that the use of radio location and monitoring will help reduce some of the uncertainty encountered this year with abandoned nests and the fate of individual animals.

Remains of an artificial nest that appears to have been depredated by a coyote. The fate of the animal that was released here is unknown, although it likely survived given that kangaroo rats typically burrow down 1.5 m into the soil. Researchers will continue to monitor in 2012-2013 in hopes of locating the individual.