May 27, 2016 - 9:00 PM
AN ‘INCREDIBLY CUTE’ SPECIES WITH A BIG ATTITUDE AND A SHRINKING POPULATION
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - While it’s pretty rare to spot a badger these days in B.C., there are a few things you should know if you run into one: expect a lot of hissing, and remember to call the badger hotline.
You’ll make a group of wildlife biologists, including Rich Weir, pretty happy if you do. Weir chairs a recovery team for the sub-species of badger that lives in B.C., and says they rely on participation from the public to monitor the dwindling population — which is largely concentrated in the grasslands and dry forests of the Thompson and Okanagan regions, as well as areas of the Boundary, Nicola, Cariboo and East Kootenays.
Badgers are secretive, nocturnal, and at-risk with an estimated population of fewer than 350 left in B.C., so your chances of seeing one are pretty slim. Vernon and Kamloops tend to get the most reports and are considered badger strongholds, Weir says.
“Badgers seem to have a bad rap as being vicious and menacing. They’re far from that. Given the chance, they leave people alone. Unless you’re a ground squirrel or a marmot, they’re not too frightening. Although, when cornered, they’ll let out quite a hiss and bare their teeth,” Weir says.
Sometimes confused with yellow-bellied marmots or wolverines, badgers are part of the weasel family and can be identified by the distinct white stripe on their faces and black cheek patches, called ‘badges’ — the characteristic that gives the creatures their name.
“If you get to see a badger in B.C. you’re one of the luckier people in the province if you ask me,” Weir says.
Weir and his wife Helen actually put badgers on the radar in the late 1990s when they applied for funding to research and radio tag the species.
“We just kind of thought there weren’t a lot of badgers around and it was a bit surprising because according to the government, badgers were not at risk,” Weir says. “We basically just thought some more information was needed to find out their status in B.C., and lo and behold, there are not a lot here in the province.”
Badgers are now listed as an at-risk species, but their populations continue to decline.
Habitat loss through housing developments and agriculture have not helped, but highway mortality seems to be the biggest factor, Weir says. Work is underway to try to get fences installed on highways to prevent badgers from crossing roadways, and instead direct them to underground culverts.
Badgers are carnivores and play a key role in keeping populations like ground squirrels, gophers and marmots in check. They are also ‘digging machines’ and their burrows are used by other animals like burrowing owls and snakes, Weir says.
To continue looking out for the creature, which Weir describes as ‘incredibly cute’ with a big attitude, researchers need the public’s assistance.
If you see a badger dead or alive, report it to the badger hotline: 1-888-223-4376 or go online.
A new phase of the project requires genetic samples, and Weir says they are looking for places where badgers or burrows have been spotted to set up hair-snaggers, particularly in the South Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary regions.
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