Herding with hockey sticks

December 16, 2004

There are no hockey sticks waving around on NHL ice this holiday season, but travel to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, and you'll see plenty of them. The game? Keeping elk at a safe distance from their adoring fans.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have found a way to keep elk in the park's townsite from clashing with tourists, but still close enough that they can be viewed and enjoyed in their wild habitat.

"This is win-win ecology," said Dr. Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a professor of biological sciences. By subjecting the animals to pyrotechnic noisemakers and herding dogs, the research team was able to increase the distance at which the elk to take flight from approaching humans. The management strategy has since been put into use by Banff park wardens using hockey sticks. By high-sticking--raising the sticks above their heads, the wardens appear larger than the elk, which is enough to frighten the wary animal away and help prevent potential classes with humans.

The approach teaches elk to have a healthy respect for people, while accommodating the animals' need for high-quality forage around the townsite. St. Clair and M.Sc. student Elsabe Kloppers, the lead researchers on the three-year project, were able to stickhandle their way to success through aversive conditioning; or getting the elk to avoid certain unpleasant stimuli--in this case an aggressive chase--and punishing them with this same stimuli for certain behaviours. A few dozen of Banff's habituated elk were divided into three groups. When they were within the town boundary, two of these groups were chased for 15 minutes by border collies--known for their herding skills--or by humans making noise. The third group of animals served as a control to measure the responses.

It was determined that humans and dogs were both effective in increasing the distance in the elk's flight response, but humans were more effective at teaching elk to avoid the townsite.

St. Clair and Kloppers began studying the problem three years ago, when serious concerns were raised about incidents in Banff. Over the past decade, elk in the town had become increasingly used to people. By 2001, park staff were recording seven incidents per year where an animal had made physical contact with a human, often with resulting injuries to the person.

The presence of the elk was also drawing unwanted attention from other predators, such as wolves, posing another threat to humans.

The dilemma was to keep the elk at a safe distance, without having to either relocate them or destroy them--two options that had been used in the past.

"The problem is basically solved in Banff," St. Clair said, adding that similar solutions may be possible for elk in other areas and for other animals like bears that are prone to habitutation.
For more information on this project, contact: Dr. Colleen Cassady St. Clair
University of Alberta
Phone: 780-492-9685
Home: 780-434-3286
e-mail: cstclair@ualberta.ca

University of Alberta

Related Dogs Articles from Brightsurf:

Dogs are sensitive to their owners' choice despite their own preference
Inspired by work on infants, researchers investigated whether dogs' behaviors are guided by human displays of preference or by the animals' own choices.

Researchers identify new Rickettsia species in dogs
Researchers have identified a new species of Rickettsia bacteria that may cause significant disease in dogs and humans.

Paleogenomics -- the prehistory of modern dogs
An international team of scientists has used ancient DNA samples to elucidate the population history of dogs.

Tracking the working dogs of 9/11
A study of search and rescue dogs led by the School of Veterinary Medicine showed little difference in longevity or cause of death between dogs at the disaster site and dogs in a control group.

Fighting like cats and dogs?
We are all familiar with the old adage ''fighting like cat and dog'', but a new scientific study now reveals how you can bid farewell to those animal scraps and foster a harmonious relationship between your pet pooch and feline friend.

Why cats have more lives than dogs when it comes to snakebite
Cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snakebite than dogs, and the reasons behind this strange phenomenon have been revealed by University of Queensland research.

Adolescence is ruff for dogs too
The study, headed by Dr Lucy Asher from Newcastle University, is the first to find evidence of adolescent behavior in dogs.

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.

Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.

Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.

Read More: Dogs News and Dogs Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.