GETTING up close and personal with mountain lions, bears and wolves has become just another day in the office for one daring Cork man.
Shane White is currently making waves as a wildlife biologist in Canada where he travels via helicopter to capture large animals with a net gun.
Despite the intense nature of his work, Shane reassured that animals remain unharmed, with temporary captures necessary only for practices such as extracting blood or taking fur samples.
An expert in his field, the 32-year-old has worked across the globe — in Italy, the US, Norway and Poland — researching the behaviour of exotic animals in the wild.
The Glanmire man said that unlike many other jobs, no two days are ever the same.
“Tomorrow I might be placing a collar on a mountain lion,” he said.
“We are kept busy with predators. A lot of my job entails travelling around looking for tracks or faeces to get an idea of wolf population size. We also look at the way wolves interact with certain species like moose.”
As a child, Shane lamented the lack of exotic wildlife in Ireland.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a fascination with nature. In a football game, I was the type of kid who’d get hit by the ball after finding myself distracted by a bird in the sky.
“My interest was always in large carnivores. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and that was definitely true in my case.
“I knew I’d have to emigrate to be able to pursue the kind of work I wanted to do. In school, I did ecology as a component of biology.
“My biology teacher, Eoin Browne, really inspired me and guided me in the direction of zoology. I owe a lot to him as I’m not sure I would be doing what I am today without his encouragement.”
More than a decade has done little to dampen Shane’s passion for wolves in particular.
“It doesn’t feel like a job. Even after 10 years, it’s still neat to hear them howl. When you hear a pack howling around you can feel it in your chest. It’s a real primeval sound.”
Shane’s family have always been hugely supportive of his career.
“My parents were always into the outdoors and this was something that was passed on to me. They roughed it in Poland with me when I was working there. They even came out wolf howling with me.”
Shane added: “I’ve had to learn to make the sound of a wolf howling to lure them in.
“What usually happens is that they will come closer to you to find out where or what you are.
“I can remember having a ‘howl off’ with one wolf I was trying to capture who eventually ended up getting away.”
Shane is keen to banish negative stereotypes around wolves.
“They have been persecuted so much that they have an innate fear of humans. Through the centuries they have turned into shy and elusive animals.
“Hollywood has a lot to do with the misconceptions around these types of animals. As a species, they fascinate me so much because of how adaptable they are. There aren’t as many wild open spaces anymore, yet even in European countries they continue to co-exist with humans.”
Shane also enjoyed working with lynx during the course of his career.
“Eurasian Lynx are three times as large as North American Lynx and feast on reindeer.
“In North America, however, they feast on snowshoe hares. While trapping Canadian lynx for research purposes, we found that the female lynx and their kittens were much more cautious.
“A female and her kitten were very hesitant while the male would make a beeline for the trap. One particular male made his way into the trap around seven times.
“There has actually been a term coined for it, ‘trap-happy’.
“It got to a point where we were going through a huge amount of bait. It was obvious that he had put on a few pounds!”
He explained that some animals are more challenging to identify.
“Cougars are a lot more elusive than wolves. Most of the time you won’t see them. The only evidence of their presence will normally be a dead deer or their tracks.”
Shane’s work has a sharp focus on animal welfare.
“An important part of the job is monitoring pulse, breathing and temperature to make sure the animal doesn’t experience any adverse reactions from the sedatives they are given during capture. Foothole traps look intimidating in the movies. You automatically picture these huge claws. In reality, you can put your hand in so the animal doesn’t feel pain.”
He underlined the far-reaching benefits of his research, adding: “It’s interesting to study wolves and find out more about the role they play in a healthy ecosystem.
“Data gathered can help determine how forestry is managed. It influences decisions around logging practises. In this part of the world, people rely a lot on natural resource extraction. The idea is to minimise and mitigate and, in turn, protect critical habitat.”
Despite encountering dangerous animals on a daily basis, Shane’s closest call occurred outside of working hours.
“My wife and I were charged by a Grizzly Bear. Luckily, I had some bear spray on me. You have to carry it with you at all times. We live in Grizzly country so bears are always a threat.”