A decade ago, thanks to the Federal Endangered Species Act, gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Conservationists have since used radio collars and overhead surveillance technologies to keep track of the animals' whereabouts. But at the end of this month, federal support will dissolve—meaning scientists will no longer be able to use the expensive equipment.
But a new, cheaper technology might save the day. "Howlbox," developed by scientists at the University of Montana in Missoula, is a $1,300 speaker-recorder system that broadcasts digitized wolf howls and then records any real howls that respond to the fakes. The system is pretty sophisticated: a precise frequency analysis of the recordings shows not only how many wolves responded, but which specific ones did.
The Howlbox was tested in one spot in Montana in January. The University of Montana's pilot project, involving four remote sites in Idaho, is slated for June.
The biggest problem with the box might not be the response from wolves, but from humans. As this NYT article points out:
To the uninitiated, a Howlbox-enhanced forest could sound as if wolves were everywhere—a scary proposition. Montana wildlife officials are braced for a public relations campaign if the project moves forward.
(Flickr, by Hare Guizer)