News | Latest News | Post-release study of two orphaned pine martens in Mayo

21st September 2012

In June 2012 a litter of pine marten kits, estimated to be about just eight weeks old, was spotted on the roadside in County Mayo attempting to suckle from their dead mother. The Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Trust were alerted to this and arranged for the successful capture of the kits by local National Parks and Wildlife Service Conservation Ranger Cameron Clotworthy and NPWS Contractor Padraig Farrell. The four kits were subsequently transferred to County Kildare where three of the them were successfully reared by wildlife rehabilitator Dan Donoher, who fed them a diet of dead day-old chicks and quail, fruit, insects, raw eggs and small dead rodents.

The next stage in their rehabilitation was their return to Mayo, where a large enclosure was created in a forested area, to prepare them for their final release. Within the enclosure they had a den box and access to small trees so they could practice climbing, vegetation to help them learn how to forage for insects, and there was always the possibility that a passing rodent might pop in to add variety to the diet. However, each evening additional food was placed inside the enclosure to ensure they remained healthy, but no direct contact was made with them.

At the end of August they were carefully captured and weighed and were considered to be ready for release in September, but not before two of the kits were fitted with a neck radio collar so that their future movements could be monitored. The reason for radio tracking the animals is to assess the survival in the wild of rehabilitated pine martens – something that has not been done before in Ireland – and to hopefully estimate the range occupied and habitats selected by the animals in the months ahead. The radio collars are fitted with an activity sensor and a mortality sensor so that the human trackers can accurately monitor the martens on a daily basis. As the animals move around within the wood, radio signals from the collars will be picked by volunteers using special receivers and hand held antennae.

The plan in September was that following the fitting of the collars, the two kits would remain in their enclosure so they could settle down again, and that one evening the enclosure door would be opened so they could roam free. It was also planned that Terry Flanagan, from the Mooney Wildlife Team, would be on hand to record this unique event. However, the kits had their own idea and made a grand escape by digging down through the floor of the enclosure. So instead of the Mooney show coming to Mayo, Emma Higgs of the IWRT went to the Mooney show on Friday 14th to talk about the project to date, you can listen back to this on the RTE Radio Player.

Since their grand escape sometime on September 12th, the two martens, known simply as PM1 and PM2, have been tracked daily by volunteers working in pairs, and they seem to have settled into a routine, with PM1 active in an area of dense coniferous woodland not that far from the enclosure, but PM2 being a bit more adventurous and choosing woodland near the junction of two rivers. Although there are lots of forest tracks and good vantage points, this radio tracker found it tough on the knees stepping through thick heather and bracken!

So, over a week has now passed and thankfully both pine martens are alive and well and exploring their new home. We’ll be posting updates on their progress on a weekly basis, so please keep checking out our news section.