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Tracking a feral animal? Here’s how to get it right!

Properly identifying and tracking an animal is an essential skill for any practising ecologist. The following is a series of techniques that will allow for efficient and accurate tracking using the tracks of an animal.

Many animals classified as feral (such as cats, dogs and foxes) have four padded feet that make complete contact with the ground. This feature is fantastic for differentiating feral animals from five-padded native animals such as possums, quolls and wallabies.

Other track identifying characteristics include the shape, size and foot placement of the animal when they walk. Usually dog prints are larger than a foxes which are then followed by a cats print (Illustrated in the figure below).

Fox and dog prints can be differentiated by the size and shape of the print. A fox print is usually more oval in shape than that of a dogs print and the prints should be fairly close to one another. Cat toes are more compressed and arranged in a semi-circular form around a central pad. This results in a more circular print which is smaller in size. As cats have retractable claws, there is usually no sign of claws in the print.

Despite having this knowledge, it can still be difficult to identify some of the most common feral animals especially when you consider the large size variation in domestic dog breeds.

Dragonfly Environmental are continuing to maintain the saltmarsh and estuary rehabilitation works in Penrhyn – a site which has had continuous fox presence. These foxes impact not only the migratory birds but also the oyster catchers and nested terns that reside there. More information on this project is provided on our website: http://www.dfe.net.au/projects/ecological-restoration/

Special acknowledgment to Andrew Hide and Scott Thompson for this information: http://www.terrestrialecosystems.com/tracking-a-feral-would-you-get-it-right/