It is so satisfying to know that you have played an instrumental part in protecting the species as a whole, whilst at the same time enhancing your entire African safari experience!
So why are collarings so vital and how is the data used to protect the species?
Collarings allow researchers to collate necessary scientific data to ultimately ensure the future survival of a particular species.
It allows them to gain information regarding the spatial ecology of free roaming animals that occurs outside of formally protected areas. These movements directly affect local communities and their livestock and tracking can mitigate human-wildlife conflict.
In terms of elephant collaring, it allows a near instantaneous observation of elephants, assessing their lives, decisions and needs. Tracking is conducted through VHF and GPS and the collars range anything from around $500.00 to $9000.00 depending upon the animal and the collar fitted. This covers the cost of the vet and medicines utilised for the procedure.
The data is transmitted by satellite whilst sophisticated software algorithms monitor elephant movement and summarise complex information.
One algorithm looks specifically for elephants that become unnaturally immobile – a warning that can indicate that an elephant is in trouble. Poaching of elephants for ivory has emerged once again as a serious threat to the species.
The real-time monitoring system is being applied to identify poaching events. When one occurs and is properly identified by the system, alerts are issued via SMS and e-mail to wildlife management and enforcement allowing rapid response.
Over the longer term, tracking data helps build knowledge of elephant ranging behaviour. In an increasingly crowded Africa, this information is key to preserving habitat and the corridors that link areas used by both elephants and other wildlife.
With wild dog, which is the second most endangered carnivore in sub Saharan Africa after the Ethiopian wolf, collaring research has become vital as there are a maximum of 4000 living in the wild.
Locations are monitored as well as movements and behaviour of all wild dog packs on a daily or weekly basis using VHF collars (and telemetry in some region). Monitoring times focus on peak hours of carnivore activity as they are crepuscular (hunting at dawn and at dusk).
More than 50% of wild dog mortality results from interactions with lion and the spotted hyaena (who are kleptoparisites).
But the biggest threat is man – as farmers falsely accuse wild dog packs for killing their livestock, even though studies have shown that the numbers tend to be around 1% whereas outside factors can account for up to 49%. Wild dog very rarely kill livestock when there is natural prey present.
They also fall to poaching, often being caught in snares and they are susceptible to disease such as distemper and rabies – infected by domestic dogs.
Tracking the pack movements means that researchers may to act swiftly if wild dog stray too close to local communities where they are at risk of human-wildlife conflict or they may catch diseases, to return them to safe areas.
The point being that these days, as a tourist, one can fund these collaring exercises and sometimes be directly involved in the collaring process. This means you are a part of the subsequent process for the balance of that animal’s natural life.
If this cannot be achieved, then at least if they are collared, then one can always visit these areas where they have been collared, and finally, one can simply donate to these very worthwhile causes, knowing that you have played an instrumental part in protecting the species as a whole.
Anti-poaching rangers image courtesy of Lewa Wilderness