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Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Carnivores


Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Carnivores is an applied three-day course introducing ground-based survey methods for carnivores of North America. Through instruction, demonstrations, and field exercises, participants learn a variety of methods to conduct surveys for carnivores; are introduced to understanding and interpreting carnivore sign; and are encouraged to appreciate the value of information derived from carcasses. The advanced techniques of identifying cause of death by predator, field necropsy, carnivores as nuisance wildlife, and carnivore diseases and parasites are also covered. This course is a hybrid, comprised one-half of scientific survey and one-half of woodcraft, providing participants a little bit of theoretical background, but primarily introducing them and expanding their skills base to find, identify, and collect valuable information on carnivore presence, relative abundance, sex, age, and health in an area.

Topics covered include:

  • Overview of the carnivores of North America, including visual ageing and sexing methods (where applicable); identification of species of conservation concern
  • Visual and auditory techniques; linear and non-linear transects; block surveys 
  • Live and lethal trapping, traps for evidence of presence (tracks, hair, camera)
  • Understanding, observing, and interpreting sign (tracks, trails, scat, dens, etc.)
  • Identification and working safely with carcasses; information provided by these
  • Identification of predator causing death; Field necropsy
  • Carnivores as nuisance wildlife
  • Carnivore diseases of concern

This course is a refinement, elaboration, and applied use of specific methods introduced in the more generic introductory course Wildlife Survey Field Methods. The purpose of the course is to provide students with an appreciation of the range of methods available to survey for carnivores. The scope of this course is North America, with species discussed and methods introduced being applicable throughout the continent. Species included in this course are: bears (black, grizzly (brown), polar); dogs (wolf, coyote, foxes); cats (cougar, bobcat, lynx); weasels (small weasels (3 species), mink, marten, fisher, otter, badger, wolverine); skunks and raccoons. Domestic and feral dogs and cats are also discussed as the sign can be difficult to distinguish between wild and feral similar animals.

Each NRTG course includes free, lifetime admission.
Enrol once – come back anytime.

The Wildlife Survey Field Methods program is delivered as a scheduled course delivery or as a contract to organizations and groups. See “How Do I Attend?” below. 


Upon successful completion of this course, participants will be familiar with: 

  • Standard visual and auditory survey methods and carnivore-specific methods using block and transect surveys
  • Attracting predators via calling and baiting
  • Basics of trapping carnivores (lethal and live-trapping, collecting DNA and tracks)
  • Method for conducting den surveys
  • Basic carnivore sign and surveying for it 
  • Sexing and ageing live animals and carcasses
  • Interpreting predation sign on prey animals

Course format

Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Carnivores is offered in two formats: (i) scheduled on-line delivery to students distributed throughout North America (Distributed Delivery), and (ii) in-person contract delivery to a group within a locale (Local Delivery). 

Distributed Delivery

The course is offered online with lectures and field assignments. As this is distance education, the student is expected to complete field assignments on their own and submit data or photographs to the instructor for examination. Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Carnivores is offered through two formats:

(1) Five lectures over three weeks, each of 1.5-2.0 hour duration (7-10 hours classroom time); lectures are typically in the evening. On days between lectures students are expected to complete assignments reinforcing material and providing experience with some survey techniques. The instructor is available via email or private Zoom meetings between classroom instruction times. This format is intended for the working professional that wishes to take the course outside of working hours. 

(2) Three consecutive days, with length of day being 6-7 hours (7-10 hours classroom time, same amount of field time). A typical day is 2-3 hour lecture in the morning, field exercise in afternoon, and brief reconvening at end of day to discuss exercises. This format is intended for professionals that can afford to dedicate three consecutive days to training. 

Local Delivery

In a local delivery the course is provided over three consecutive days, with lectures provided either in-person by the instructor or via Zoom, and field exercises conducted under direct supervision of the instructor. This format is intended for a group delivery, typically to an organization or company that can provide a minimum of eight students within the local area. 

NRTG has experience delivering courses following COVID-19 mitigation measures. For in-person deliveries, lecture is done in-person or by Zoom, depending upon vaccination status and ability to socially distance within a classroom. Field activities follow social distancing and masking requirements. For the in-person delivery the instructor will travel to your community and lead the students in the field in person. See also Course Customization and How do I Attend?, below.

Course Customization

Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Carnivores can be customized for your organization, company, or aboriginal group based on your needs. For instance, this course can focus on specific species of interest, geographic region, or time-of-year (e.g., summer vs winter surveys). NRTG requires two weeks notice to customize the course prior to delivery. Custom or ‘in-house’ course deliveries to an organization or company may vary in format. 

Please contact us with your ideas and needs and we will work with you to design and customize this course to meet your specific needs.

Potential Students 

Field Methods for Wildlife Surveys: Carnivores is intended for biologists and environmental technicians beginning their careers or seeking instruction protocols, First Nation environmental technicians required to conduct wildlife surveys in their territories, or others looking for a general introduction to a variety of carnivore scientific survey methods.


Knowledge and experience with basic field tools such as map, compass, and GPS is recommended. 

Personal Equipment Requirements

Waterproof field notebook (example), compass, camera (phone camera is acceptable), suitable all-weather boots, appropriate clothing for field work. Binoculars, GPS, field tape, and guide to tracks and sign are optional but recommended. 

For further information, or for further assistance, please contact NRTG.  

Course Fees

Course fees will vary by course delivery location.  For further information, please contact us or refer to our Course Schedule Page.

How do I Attend?

Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Carnivores is offered as a regularly scheduled course delivery and on contract to organizations, companies, and aboriginal groups throughout the year in communities throughout North America. Scheduled courses are posted on the NRTG Schedule Page

If you would like to inquire to have us bring this course to your community or organization, please contact us for further information and consider the following:

  1. Contact us well in advance of your preferred course start date
  2. If applicable, secure program funding
  3. Recruit course participants (most NRTG courses have minimum enrollments of 10 participants)
  4. Coordinate course participant equipment, classroom facility, and contractual agreement with NRTG.

Note: See Course Customization above for more information about ‘in-house’ course delivery options.

Instructor Profile

Dr. Sean Mitchell has over 30 years experience in environmental sampling and analysis of wildlife populations including fish, crustaceans, birds, reptiles, and mammals in four provinces. He brings an applied field-based approach to sampling and nests that within the constraints of study design to teach students not only how to conduct the field work, but also why it is important to follow particular protocols. Dr. Mitchell has also been teaching for almost 20 years, having taught at three universities and in First Nation communities.

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