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Rarely seen wolverines subject of northwestern Ontario tracking project

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Matt Scrafford’s job involves getting up close and personal with a notoriously elusive animal. 

He studies wolverines, and is currently working on a project that involves live-trapping, and tracking the animals near the town of Red Lake in northwestern Ontario.

It’s not easy to do — to say wolverines keep to themselves would be an understatement — but that’s what Scrafford loves about the job. 

“Just the challenge of working with a species that’s so low-density, so reclusive,” he said. “Wolverines are really hard to find and so there’s an element of challenge to that that’s really exciting for me.” 

Scrafford says five animals have so far been tagged as part of the northwestern Ontario study. The animals, which have a reputation for being ferocious, are sedated before being handled, ‘I have the upper hand there,’ Scrafford said, ‘if that wolverine was not anesthetized, I would not have the upper hand.’ (Wildlife Conservation Society Canada)

The animals are also still relatively poorly understood, he said, which is what makes his current work, as a wolverine conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, so important.

He’s trying to get a handle on the animal’s population numbers and demographic patterns in order to better understand how to manage the habitat of the species, which is threatened in Ontario. 

Research could inform habitat management

The work involves anesthetizing the animals and fitting wolverines with GPS collars, which transmit information about their location every several hours, so researchers get a “fine detailed understanding of where the wolverine’s spending its time,” he said.

Researchers get a sense of where dens are located, and how wolverines are moving on the land relative to other things such as forestry operations and roads. 

“If we have that type of information we can manage populations to help with growth. If populations grow we could potentially take them off of the endangered species list here in Ontario,” he said. 

How do you trap a wolverine?

But before the wolverines can be collared, they need to be caught. 

To do that Scrafford and his colleagues work with local trappers, who give them advice on good spots to set up the live traps, which are sometimes constructed in the field using logs, and are baited with beaver meat. 

In order to trap the wolverines, log traps like this one are constructed in the field, and baited with meat — often beaver. The traps must have sturdy walls, said researcher Matt Scrafford, or else the animals will be able to get out. When they enter the trap the lid will close, and researchers are notified immediately. (Wildlife Conservation Society Canada)

When a scavenger jumps in, the lid closes, and Scrafford and his colleagues immediately receive a notification. The researchers will be located in a cabin nearby, he said, and snap into action to reach the site — usually by snowmobile — within the span of about an hour.  Animal welfare is paramount, he said, so when a trap is triggered the researchers respond at any time of day or night.

They have this low, just guttural grumble that can kind of just send … shivers up your spine– Matt Scrafford

If a wolverine is inside, it’s not hard to tell. Their distinctive sound can be heard from a distance of about 10 metres, he said. 

“They have this low, just guttural grumble that can kind of just send kind of shivers up your spine … you know I’ve worked with 70 or 80 different individual wolverines and every time I walk up to the trap and there’s a new individual in there making that noise it still does the same thing for me that it did the first time that I heard it.”

Motion-sensor cameras

In addition to live trapping the animals, the researchers are also capturing images of them using cameras set up at stations in the woods. 

Across from those stations is a piece of meat, hanging from a tree, and strategically placed so that when a wolverine reaches for it, the animal exposes its chest pattern. Those patterns, unique to each animal, are like calling cards. 

“It’s kind of like a human fingerprint,” Scrafford said, adding that the photos then help them to estimate population numbers. 

Since the study was launched in 2018, Scrafford says they’ve managed to collar five wolverines – four males and one female. He said he hopes the study will go on for another year or two, so they can increase that number, and get a good sense of how the animals are faring on the boreal shield. 

For Scrafford, who also did PhD research on wolverines in Alberta, working with the animals is a dream job. 

“They’re furry and they’re fluffy and handsome and [they’ve] got lots of personality,” he said, “and they’re pretty cool critters.”

Matt Scrafford holds an immobilized wolverine being tagged for study. Animal welfare is paramount, he said, so when a trap is triggered the researchers respond at any time of day or night. (Wildlife Conservation Society Canada)

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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