With technology and creativity, we can detect Northwest wildlife under the most extreme conditions

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Scent Dispensers

In order to appreciate and protect our Northwest wilderness for generations to come, we have to know as much as we can about the animals that live here—understanding the different species’ roles in the ecosystem, how they make use of their habitats, what they need to survive, and how we can safely coexist.

It is one thing to monitor wildlife in urban areas, where we share our neighborhoods with raccoons, opossums, and even coyotes—but what about species that live in remote areas or at very high elevations? How can we know that their populations and habitats are healthy? For years, scientists have used remote cameras and odorous scent attractants to capture images of elusive species such as wolverines, lynx, fishers, cougars and gray wolves. But this method is a major challenge during the winter. Scents naturally fade and replenishing them is virtually impossible during winter, when deep snow and dangerous avalanche conditions make backcountry terrain dangerous or even impossible to access. This is where collaboration, innovation and conservation come into play!

Community Partnerships

A few years ago, Woodland Park Zoo scientist and Senior Director of the Living Northwest Conservation Program Robert Long teamed up with Microsoft and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to create a new device that solved that problem beautifully! This scent dispenser tool uses a miniature pump and an electronic controller to release a tiny amount of liquid every day (it is very strong—think eau de skunk blended with some anise). And it is all housed inside a bear-proof metal box (strength-tested by Woodland Park Zoo’s grizzly bears) that can be secured to a tree 15 feet off the ground—high enough to stay above the snow line even in the middle of winter where it can remain all season long.

The new tool has been a real game-changer for wildlife conservation research over the last few years. Of the 24 dispensers that were deployed in the North Cascades over the 2016-17 winter season, Long reported that wolverines were detected at 13 of them. The cameras also caught images of other animals including Canada lynx, cougars, bears, Pacific martens and at least one gray wolf. And over a wider footprint, the dispenser has also been used in a multi-state wolverine survey conducted across Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington.

Building a Better Tool

Since its initial deployment, the team that created this tool has already upgraded it to be more compact and intuitive, with increasingly sophisticated cameras to capture better images from more angles. And this year marks a new milestone! Plans are underway to bring the latest version of this scent dispenser to market—manufacturing them and making them available to other scientists for their own research.

Innovation for Conservation

Currently there are very few budget-friendly options for this kind of research—so our innovative new scent dispenser can affordably address a clear and pressing need both regionally and beyond. Any funds generated from the sales will allow us to continue funding our own carnivore studies. and can provide a base for more in the future—a win-win for science! It is our hope that these novel scent dispensers will help advance carnivore research and conservation around the world.

Our Mission

Woodland Park Zoo saves wildlife and inspires everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives.

Land Acknowledgment

Woodland Park Zoo recognizes that these are the lands of the Tribal signatories of the Treaty of Point Elliott. We acknowledge their stewardship of this place continues to this day and that it is our responsibility to join them to restore the relationship with the living world around us.

Association of Zoos & Aquariums
Seattle Parks & Recreation
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5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103   |  206.548.2500  |   zooinfo@zoo.org