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Tracking GPS Collar Use in Wildlife Conservation

There are various methods wildlife environmentalists employ to strengthen conservation efforts. No one way could single-handedly win the battle against illegal poaching in the same way there isn’t a single solution to climate change. One device that is used in wildlife conservation is the tracking collar.

But what is a tracking collar?

A tracking collar is a device attached to the neck or to the limb of an animal. It is primarily used to monitor animal location and gather data. There are different kinds of tracking collars: VHF collars that use radio signals, GPS collars, and now - high-tech smart collars.

Tracking collars are very important because they provide valuable data to researchers and environmentalists. Collars are used to help track population size, habitat, hunting patterns, and other information that could provide a real glimpse on how animals live and survive in the wild. Knowing this information helps scientists understand how climate change is affecting wild animals helping to determine what steps need to be taken.

By providing accurate location of the animals, collars can also help fight poaching, especially in observing animals that are endangered or are in vulnerable areas.

How technology is changing tracking methods

Tracking collars are not new inventions. For years, VHF and GPS collars have been used in aiding wildlife conservation efforts. But as technology evolves, newer devices are being developed that could detect and collect more sophisticated data.

Before, tracking collars were limited to determining the location of the animals. Now, there are collars that could detect information such as animal behaviour, metabolism, range of movement, energy expenditure and the way animals adapt to the environment.

These new breed of collars are somewhat similar to fitness trackers that humans wear and connect to their mobile phones to track calories burned, heart rate, steps taken, sleep patterns, etc. This level of detail is now being made available in animal tracking collars, but data collected is customized to suit the information required in wildlife research.

One example of these high-tech devices is the SMART collar created by eco psychologist Terrie Williams, wildlife ecologist Christopher Wilmers and computer engineer Gabriel Elkaim. The collar the inventors developed was the first to measure energy expenditure on a terrestrial cat. The SMART collar records different data signatures that shows how fast a wild animal moves, how high it jumps, when it rests, walks, and eats, and how it kills its prey.This was considered a breakthrough that has dramatically improved research.

But this technology is not limited to tracking collars alone. Now, tracking devices are becoming increasingly specialized in order to gather data specific to different species. Aside from collars for mammals, there are high-tech tracking devices for other animals like fish and birds. Technology has also shaped newer collars to be less bulky and to suit even smaller species.

Camera traps are also a good piece of technology used all over Africa now for tracking and understanding animal movements. This photo of a leopard was taken last month by one of Africa Wild Trails’ partner camera traps and was surprising as we were not expecting to capture this image of a leopard. Sightings of leopard in the area are very rare and only the occasional print would be found. To note it's tracking collar on this camera trap image was surprising and efforts are now being made to establish where this leopard originated.

As technology becomes more efficient, the use of tracking collars and other devices will become more effective in helping wildlife conservation.

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