Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

S. Nicole Frey

Abstract

Current scientific knowledge of the ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) is limited, thus impeding appropriate management decisions. Ringtails in Zion National Park, Utah, are rarely seen, but are involved in increasing occurrences of negative interactions with park visitors and employees such as food theft and denning in buildings, interactions which are harmful to both parties. To manage this conflict, an update to the general knowledge about the status of the population is required as the only previous study on ringtails in this area was conducted in the 1960s. Using noninvasive techniques provides dependable large-scale population information. I used two noninvasive detection methods in combination to establish a robust occupancy estimate of the ringtail population in Zion National Park. Ringtails were detected in 2 of 3 focus areas in the park, but at low densities. This study included the development of a novel method to individually identify ringtails by their footprints. I used the Interactive Individual Identification System (I3S) software to determine if individuals could be identified using the pattern formed by papillae and ridges of the footpad. Ringtails’ footpad prints consistently resulted in a unique pattern recognizable by simple visual analysis and a computer-aided analysis of the prints in a database; however more research is needed for the applicability using field data. Ringtail densities were highest in the areas of greatest human activity. The proximity to humans may be impacting ringtail diet and consequently their health. I collected scat in areas of high and low human use to quantify the change in diet resulting from food acquired around human establishments. Ringtails living in areas of high human activity exhibited a change in diet, including the presence of human trash such as foil and plastic; this has implications for ringtail health and human safety. Ringtails acquiring food from human sources may increase their activities around buildings and areas with high human activity, resulting in an increased chance of direct and indirect human-ringtail interactions. Active management of human activities and regular building maintenance is required in the future to decrease negative consequences of ringtail use and presence in areas of high human activity.

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