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Scent-dispensing chips help researchers snap wild wolverines

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Scent-dispensing chips help researchers snap wild wolverines

Wildlife experts in the US have a cunning technique to track "high-elevation" animals such as wolverines, lynx and gray wolves. Small survey stations known as "camera traps" use tempting scents to lure them in, before snapping a quick shot that can be used for research. The problem? The scent runs out after a few weeks, forcing conservationists at places like Woodland Park Zoo and Idaho Fish and Game to trek out and replace them manually. Microsoft researcher Mike Sinclair has been working with Dr. Robert Long, a senior conservation fellow at Woodland Park Zoo, and Joel Sauder, a wildlife biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, on a solution. The trio have developed an ultra-low power control processor, powered by lithium batteries, that's programmed to dispense just three millilitres of liquid scent through a tiny peristaltic pump each day. Just enough to lure the animals, but more importantly, the hardware can last six to nine months without any maintenance.

Sinclair and a group of STEM high school students built roughly 70 processor boards, which have now been installed in metal bear-proof casings (grizzlies also like the smell and often try to break them open). Thirty-five of the dispensers will be distributed across 656 square miles in the North Cascades -- they'll be used to track wolverines -- while another 20 will be set up for a forest carnivore, multi-species project in north-central Idaho. Each "camera trap" can shoot around 40,000 photos before it needs to be retrieved -- combined with the dispensers, they should be fairly autonomous through the winter months.

[Images: Geoff Caddick/PA WIRE (top image) Woodland Park Zoo (processor and metal casing)]

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