Posted 12 months ago
By John Axtell
Chadron State College, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, have begun a joint research project to document the current distribution and abundance of the rare and elusive swift fox.
The study will also attempt to identify any ecological or human-caused factors limiting its distribution in western Nebraska.
About the size of a house cat, the swift fox lives primarily in short-grass prairies and deserts in underground dens. It became nearly extinct in the 1930s as a result of predator control programs, but was successfully reintroduced.
Leading the swift fox study is UNL doctoral candidate Lucia Corral, who is placing 10 trail cameras on public and private land for a minimum of 10 days at 100 different sites in 23 counties in the western half of Nebraska.
Each study site will consist of a series of “camera traps”…a camera with motion detector and a “lure stick” with a skunk-based attractant. The lure stick and camera will be about 8-feet from other and a little less than 2-feet off the ground, with each trap at least a mile apart.
Chadron State students are providing the legwork for the study, installing and moving the camera traps. Corral taught them how to do that in a training session last Thursday and Friday, with the students setting up the first traps over the weekend.
Each trap has a GPS unit to provide a precise location for the mapping portion of Corral’s research, while each camera also recording the air temperature.
Corral says the camera traps will be set up in the swift fox’s preferred habitat of flat, open areas with short grass or overgrazed land. Many will be near water tanks because of the “diversity of animals” the water draws, but other cameras will be corner posts, electric posts, fences, and windmills.
Corral says each site will be an important part of the research, whether any swift foxes are spotted there or not…explaining that the lack of them may allow the study to identify characteristics of the location that make it unsuitable for the species including urbanization and predation by coyotes.