University of Cumbria 'Wildlife & Media' students visit TWP

May 2012 - In our drive to forge educational links with higher education institutions, we recently agreed to host a group of Wildlife & Media students from the University of Cumbria for two weeks. This would allow them to complete project work as part of their second year of studies and at the same time offer us a link to much needed services in the UK. As our work is non-interventionist (i.e. we do not sedate and radio collar large carnivores) we do however want to learn more about carnivore behaviour. The students inform me that their university has laboratory facilities which can analyse carnivore scat, which is very useful for determining diet and disease in individual animals.

There were five students in the group, Paul Mitchell, Ryan Deal, Daniel Sencier, Robert Brumfitt and Ashley Howe. We soon became aware of individual strengths within the group which proved hugely beneficial to the TWP. Ashley especially was a walking encyclopaedia on anything ornithological and could quickly identify birds from either a short glimpse using his binoculars, or by listening to their song. The other team members regularly tested Ashley's skills and he always met the challenge with a long list of data, including the sex of the bird he was listening to. Ashley has kindly agreed to produce a guide for the TWP, consisting of all the bird species seen on their trip.

Daniel at 60 year of age was the oldest student within the team who has recently survived prostate cancer. With a colourful career history and lots of life experience, much of the credit for the success of this trip was down to Daniel's tireless fund raising activities. I enjoyed his company and whilst the others patrolled the forests, Daniel often remained in the village of Ozsdola getting to know how life works here and how people relate to their environment. This is just as important as studying the wildlife and forests, as it is because of this relationship that carnivore activity close to and often inside the village is tolerated. From my observations the villagers enjoyed Daniel's company as much as he enjoyed their's.

The students brought several camera traps with the, most of which we set to video mode for the duration of their stay. Laszlo, the TWP tracker would then observe wildlife activity and then recommend a location to  place the camera.

After retrieving the camera traps there would be an anxious wait by the Land Rover whilst Paul Mitchell loaded the SD cards onto his laptop. Often the wind would trigger the camera trap and all we saw were moving branches. However, that made the rare footage of wildlife even more exciting, being rewarded with the rare glimpse of an animal going about its business in a completely natural way. This kind of behavioural observation is often harder to achieve from a hide, especially if the animal is aware of your scent or hears the shutter action coming from your camera.

As always on our field trips, we make time to enjoy the splendour of the wild Carpathian mountains. Here the team are resting on a high plateau where Laszlo had recently been tracking a pack of wolves. It is easy to see why this area would be popular with wolves, remote, vast forests with an abundance of prey species.

Several TWP members were interviewed by the five University of Cumbria students as they will be producing a promotional video for us. The aim of the video is to raise awareness of local wildlife and environment issues, along with the educational and field work activities of the TWP.