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"JAL" 2003 Obituary


JALKOTZY o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-07-28 published
He had a passion for big cats
Canadian wildlife biologist pioneered long-running cougar project, radio-tracked lions in East Africa
By Allison LAWLOR Monday, July 28, 2003 - Page R7
Ian ROSS, a Canadian wildlife biologist whose love of big cats took him deep into the bush in East Africa, has died after his small plane crashed in central Kenya. He was 44.
Mr. ROSS was radio-tracking lions in Kenya's Laikipia district as part of a research study aimed at improving the conservation of large carnivores in Africa, when the two-seater Husky aircraft he was a passenger in crashed and burned.
The plane, which was flying at a low altitude in order to allow him to track the animals, crashed in the early evening of June 29. Mr. ROSS and the American pilot who was flying the plane were killed instantly, said Laurence FRANK, director of the Laikipia Predator Project and a research associate at the University of California at Berkeley.
Mr. ROSS, who arrived in Kenya from Calgary in January, had intended to stay there working on the project for at least a year.
"He had this real passion for big cats. He wanted to study them around the world," said Vivian PHARIS, who sits on the board of directors at the Alberta Wilderness Association, of which Mr. ROSS was a member for close to 20 years.
"Large carnivores are interesting because their populations tend to be the first to suffer from human activities," Mr. ROSS said a few years ago in a short article written on the occasion of a high-school reunion. "They require huge land areas and some of their characteristics are very similar to and conflict with our own."
Although Mr. ROSS had spent considerable time in the field researching several wild animals, including lions, grizzly bears and moose, Mr. ROSS was best known for his expertise on cougars.
In the mid-1990s, he and colleague Martin JALKOTZY, with whom he ran a small Calgary-based consulting firm called Arc Wildlife Services, completed a 14-year study on cougars.
The study, considered the longest-running cougar project and the most intensive of its kind, looked at everything from cougar population dynamics, to the effects of hunting, to food and habitat use.
The intensive fieldwork took place in the winter in the foothills of Alberta. Winter allowed the researchers to follow a cougar's tracks in the snow. Once a cat was tracked, with the help of dogs, the animal would be tranquillized before it was radio-collared and its measurements were taken.
"We worked really well as a team," Mr. JALKOTZY said. "It was something Ian did quite well."
The cougar project received wide public attention when Mr. ROSS appeared on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio's Morningside with Peter GZOWSKI and Arthur BLACK, the former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio host, followed along with Mr. ROSS and Mr. JALKOTZY while they radio-collared a cougar. Mr. BLACK recorded the event for his program Basic Black.
In the mid-1980s, not long after Mr. ROSS became involved in the study, he lost his friend and mentor Orvall PALL. Mr. PALL was killed in a plane crash while tracking bighorn sheep in Alberta. At the time of his death he was working with Mr. ROSS and Mr. JALKOTZY on the cougar project.
Over the years, Mr. ROSS, who was described as quiet and unassuming, made a number of public presentations on the cougar study. He was especially in demand in 2001 after a woman was killed by a cougar while cross-country skiing near Banff, Alberta.
"Ian really believed in public education," believing it was the first step toward conservation, Mr. JALKOTZY said. Speaking publicly also helped to raise money, from individual donors, corporations and other sources, for the independent study.
Mr. ROSS also did a lot of work with Alberta Fish and Wildlife and was instrumental, along with Mr. JALKOTZY, in getting the province to adopt a new cougar wildlife management plan to control hunting.
Ian ROSS was born on December 16, 1958, in Goderich, Ontario He was the third of four children born to Burns and Ruth ROSS. Childhood was spent in the fields of Huron County near his home, climbing through muskrat swamps and collecting pelts and animal skulls.
After high school, Mr. ROSS left Goderich for Guelph, Ontario, where he studied wildlife biology. In 1982, he graduated from the University of Guelph with an honours degree. Soon after, he packed up his pickup truck with all his possessions and drove west to Alberta. After a short stint working as a beekeeper in the Peace River area, he was hired by a small private consulting firm in Calgary as a wildlife biologist and started studying grizzly bears and moose.
In 1984, he married Sheri MacLAREN, also from Goderich. The couple separated in January, 2002.
Over the course of his career, Mr. ROSS figured he had captured and released more than 1,000 large mammals including bighorn sheep, cougars and grizzlies, for research. Not afraid of large animals, he captured and collared his first leopard two days before he died.
Andrew ROSS recalls one time his older brother was injured by a moose when it kicked him in the face after being sedated. He was left bruised and with a cracked cheekbone.
"He was extremely meticulous and careful," Dr. FRANK said, referring to Mr. ROSS's work.
Through his consulting firm, Mr. ROSS conducted numerous environmental impact studies in western and northern Canada for the oil industry and government. The work required Mr. ROSS to spend a lot more time at his office desk instead of in the field where he felt his true talent was.
"Working with these large animals is very exciting and also very dangerous," Dr. FRANK said.
Mr. ROSS loved being in the field but hated what he had to do to the animals. He knew that by capturing the large predators he was causing them trauma, but he strongly believed that what he was doing was for the benefit of research and in the end the benefit of the animals, Dr. FRANK said.
"He was just so aware of the animal's experience, the animal's dignity, if you can put it that way," Dr. FRANK said.
Mr. ROSS spent the spring of 2002 working in northern British Columbia capturing grizzly bears for research. The job meant Mr. ROSS, a man small in stature but strong and wiry, and a pilot would fly low over an area in a helicopter trying to spot bears. Once they had, Mr. ROSS's job was to lean out of the plane, secure in his harness and dart the animal with a tranquillizer. After the animal was sedated, they would circle back, land the plane and eventually radio collar the animal.
"He had great capture skills," Mr. JALKOTZY said.
Aside from being a committed conservationist, Mr. ROSS was also an avid hunter and enjoyed hunting elk, moose and deer. But he vigorously opposed the trophy killing of wolves, bears and cougars.
Andrew ROSS recalls that when his brother went moose hunting, deep in the woods, he would only bring three bullets with him. He figured that if he couldn't kill an animal with those, he didn't deserve to get one.
"He would often get the moose with one bullet," Andrew ROSS said.
While he loved to hunt, he never went out in an area he was studying, considering that to be a conflict of interest, his brother said.
"Ian cared passionately about wildlife and wild country," and tried to do what he could to conserve it, Mr. JALKOTZY said.
Next month, Mr. ROSS's ashes will be dispersed in Alberta's Kananaskis country, where he had spent so much time with the cougars.

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