Carnivore Tracking Project: Involving volunteers in wolf and lynx monitoring

Miroslav Kutal (CZ), Michal Feller (CZ), Romana Uhrinová (SK), Barbora Černá (CZ), Carnivore Conservation Programme, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (CZ)

The Carnivore Tracking Project focuses on involving volunteers in data collection on three large carnivore species - wolves, lynx and bears. The recovery of these large carnivores in Europe's human-dominated landscape is a challenge for successful coexistence and the ability of human society to tolerate charismatic keystone species in forest ecosystems, but also species that are the source of many local conflicts, especially in areas with high livestock densities.

Many conflicts at the local level stem from prejudices, legends, disinformation and fear of the unknown about large carnivores, especially in areas that have been recolonised by large carnivores in recent years and where local people have no personal experience of sharing the landscape with them.

Typical characteristics of large carnivores are their low population densities, large home ranges and nocturnality, which make encountering them and estimating their abundance, population density or feeding ecology extremely difficult and expensive in terms of human resources. This is where volunteer citizen scientists, if properly trained, motivated and organised, can provide valuable assistance.

Friends of the Earth Czech Republic's Carnivore Conservation Programme started as a volunteer initiative to (1) protect lynx and wolves from poaching, (2) collect reliable data on their occurrence by snow tracking and collecting other indirect signs of their presence such as scat or hair, and (3) involve local people in data collection and non-formal education about large carnivores.

Each year, training for new volunteers is organised as 3-day workshops in several areas recently recolonised by large carnivores and field data collection is organised through smaller monitoring events or individually throughout the year.

The scientific quality of the project is high: the data have generated new knowledge published in high-impact journals such as Science, PloS ONE, Scientific Reports or Conservation Letters.

We are grateful to all the dedicated volunteers of the Carnivore Tracking Project and the following institutional and financial support.

Institutional: Mendel University in Brno, Charles University, Czech University of Life Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Nature Conservation Agency (CZ), NP Šumava, NP Krkonoše, NP České Švýcarsko. 

Financial: Ministry of Environment (CZ), European Union, Interreg Central Europe, Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (CZ), EuroNatur Foundation, Ministry of Interior (CZ), Liberecký region, Olomoucký region, Karlovarský region, Moravskoslezský region, Active Citizens Fund.

Carnivore Conservation Programme, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (CZ): The Large Carnivore Conservation Programme is a local group of Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí DUHA). The NGO was founded in 1992 by students of Palacký University in Olomouc, formerly known as the Olomouc local group. It has been actively involved in the protection of large carnivores for the past 20 years, as wolves have returned to the Czech Carpathians (Beskydy) and have now recolonised many other parts of the Czech landscape.

Miroslav Kutal (CZ) started working as a volunteer citizen scientist in 2002 while studying biology and ecology at Palacký University in Olomouc. He started coordinating wolf and lynx patrols, a forerunner of the Carnivore Tracking Project and developed the initiative in the following decades.  Miroslav completed his PhD on wolf and lynx ecology at the Mendel University in Brno and currently works as an academic researcher focusing on large carnivore ecology and conservation, using citizen science data for research.  He is involved in the Carnivore Tracking Project as a scientific advisor.

Michal Feller (CZ) graduated in biomedical and ecological engineering at Brno University of Technology. Since 2018, he has been employed by FoE CZ as a monitoring coordinator in the Jeseníky Mountains. He also held the position of Programme Manager and now he is the coordinator of FoE CZ, where he is responsible for the coordination of the organisation together with the Programme Manager. Michal is also responsible for the implementation of project activities and he continuously participates in the training events relevant to the Carnivore Tracking Project in the area of Jeseníky.

Romana Uhrinová (SK) studied ecology at Comenius University in Bratislava. During her studies, she also volunteered to monitor large carnivores in NP Muránska Planina in Slovakia. From 2020 to 2023, she worked for WWF Slovakia as a project manager for large carnivores. Since April 2023, she has been working as a Programme Manager at FoE CZ, where she focuses on the conservation and monitoring of large carnivores. Her involvement in the Carnivore Tracking Project is mainly focused on the coordination of local coordinators, who are responsible for volunteer training.

Barbora Černá (CZ) has been monitoring wolves in FoE CZ since 2016, mainly in the area of Podbezdězí, Kokořínsko and Ralsko. During 2018-2020, she also worked for the Agency for Nature Conservation and Landscape Protection of the Czech Republic on a project relevant to the topic of the Wolf in Human-Altered Transboundary Landscapes and subsequently until 2023 as a researcher for the Institute of Forest Ecology at the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology of Mendel University in Brno. Barbora has been coordinating the Carnivore Tracking Project in FoE CZ since 2020.

Monitoring programme for three large carnivore species –wolves, lynx and bears– in the Czech and Slovak Republics engaging local communities in multiple ways and providing significant scientific results since 2002. Also, its communication and engagement models mark this as a  remarkable example of how to bring together different groups,such as local nature enthusiasts, artists, students or hunters.