Dispersal, Home Range and Survival of Repatriated Mink in the Northern Coastal Marshes of South Carolina

Research conducted by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources indicated that populations of mink throughout South Carolina were declining or had become rare in areas of previous abundance. In September 1998, we initiated a 3-year study within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in Charleston County, South Carolina, to determine the feasibility of re-establishing a wild mink (Mustela vison) population in the northern coastal marshes of South Carolina. We captured 62 wild mink with dip nets, cast nets, and live traps from tidal marshes near Edisto and Daufuskie islands, South Carolina. Dip nets and live trapping of family groups were the most effective capture methods. Nineteen mink were implanted with radio-transmitters before release, and the remaining mink were released in the CRNWR without transmitters. We located 14 mink on 902 occasions over a 15-month period. We obtained sufficient data for home range analysis on 4 males and 9 females. Gender-specific mean dispersal distances from their release sites were 3.61 ± 0.43 km for males, 1.1 ± 0.38 km for females with offspring, and 4.67 ± 0.43 km for females without offspring. While there was no difference in dispersal distance between males and females without offspring, dispersal distances of females with offspring were less than both males and females without offspring. Gender-specific mean home range sizes were 6.91 ± 1.41 km2 for males and 2.28 ± 0.89 km2 for females. Although male and female home range sizes differed, home range sizes were not different between females without offspring and females with offspring. Overlap in home range was evident between gender but not within gender, which suggests intra-sexual territoriality. There was an 89% survival estimate of radio-implanted mink to 125 days using the Kaplan Meier survival procedure, suggesting that repatriation of wild mink was successful. The success of this study has prompted SCDNR to continue mink restoration in the state's northern coastal marshes using capture techniques developed during the study.

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