Catherine Reynolds picks up a piece of a deer’s antlers and explains that deer repel their antlers each year. Two small indentations are being identified as traces of deer teeth that have scraped this piece of antler. Females do this to get calcium for milk production; male animals need calcium to build their antlers. Christine leads tourists through the Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and teaches how exciting it is to search for traces of animal piles, footprints, scratches and much more. She goes for it like a detective.
Catherine leads the group of the workshop Poop, Paws and Pathways over a trail in the woods. She explains us what the dung of various animals look like. She compares the dropping of animals of the deer family, such as mule deer, elk and moose, with chocolate-covered dried fruit, from raisin- to almond-size. Well, you shouldn’t really eat it…
Catherine shows us the ragged ends of some bushes, bitten off by a deer, while mice or squirrels bite off the branches in a smooth way. On an aspen trunk she finds traces of deer teeth and bear droppings. We recognize the berry seeds.
If the soil is wet, muddy or sandy, you can look out for footprints. We should be careful, warns the leader, not to step on the tracks so that others can still read them.
Death in the thicket
The most exciting finds of today is the discovery of a „murder“, as the Wildlife criminologist describes the events – not meant entirely seriously. First, we find a shoulder blade bone, probably from an elk. A little further in the grass half a lower jaw, not far away we can see the bones of an entire leg. And then Catherine discovered the scene. Under a shrub is the skull of a deer. The ground is covered with fine hairs. However, this is hardly recognizable to the untrained, but after the expert points it out, we see it. Now it is certain, the color of the coat suggests that the victim is a wapiti stag. The perpetrator was a puma (mountain lion, cougar), these animals remove the fur of their prey before they eat it. Scratch marks on a tree can be seen. By a bear perhaps, says Catherine. Maybe a mother bear with cub feasted on the remains and the two were surprised by the cougar, who paused after the seizure but was hungry again. It may be the young bear fled into the tree, the reader interprets the track events.
Waterton Wildlife Festival
I have participated in this very interesting course „Poop, Paws and Pathways“ during the Wildlife Festival in Waterton Lakes National Park. This is being held in September on a yearly bases. A new world opened up to me. It’s incredibly exciting to read tracks and to know that an animal was at the same spot where I am. It’s at least as exciting as actually encountering a wild animal. It is also very useful to know what to look for when you are on the lookout for animals. In any case, we can recommend a course like this for those who move into areas where wild animals live.