Wildlife Tracking and Monitoring Programme

A crucial management tool, and one of the greatest scientific leaps in understanding animal behaviour, has come about through systems that allow us to track and monitor wildlife.

Obtaining tracking data is crucial for reserves. This allows animal movements to be monitored for research purpose and the better inform management decisions. Being able to find and observe populations allows reserves to know what they have, where they go, what they do and eat, and who they associate with. It is also crucial for protecting communities on the periphery of reserves for animals that show sign of dispersing or breaking out.

We partner with AWE and have been involved in multiple tracking projects across a variety of reserves, including:

  • Installation of multiple Base Stations Tembe Elephant Park and Thanda Private Game Reserve
  • Deployment of multiple Creature Reacher devices to Tembe and Thanda 
  • Collars for multiple elephants Thanda 
  • Collaring of multiple Hyenas in Thanda 
  • Collaring and fees of multiple Free Roaming Cheetah for Cheetah Outreach Project 
  • Collaring of multiple cheetahs in Manyoni
  • Rhino pod for rhinoceros in Manyoni
  • Tracking devices on multiple pangolins Manyoni 

There are many types of collars and systems and technology changes rapidly. However the basics are a VHF collar, a GSM collar, a Satellite collar, and a tag system.

A VHF collar sends signal out in the form of a radio wave that can be picked up by a telemetry unit which usually beeps or blips when it is in range with the strongest sound in the direction of the collar. It is battery powered and usually always “on”. The monitor can then track them this way until the get a visual. These are the cheapest technology but crucial for field work.

GSM and Satellite are similar systems. Both the units gather data using GPS locations and can store the information on board and/or send it via a network to an allocated space. A GSM collar will use the mobile network to send the information (usually GPS location points) to a profile online, while a satellite collar will send the information via the satellite system. GSM is cheaper than satellite but requires network coverage. Satellite needs to connect to passing satellites and can send from anywhere but does get affected by cloud coverage or inability to connect to the satellites. Both systems require batteries to power the unit on at a set time, obtain a data point and attempt to send the point on the system and then power off. These collars usually last around 2 years before needing a change, although if faulty they must be changed earlier. Animals play rough and lie in mud and water and more that can cause issues. Pangolin tracking pods are usually replaced every 3 months. Most reserves require a VHF component as well as one of the GSM or satellite options.

Each animal is different, has different body shapes and behaviour, and this can affect the collar types. For example, a rhino cannot have the usual collars as their necks are larger then there heads and the collars just fall off  – so there are specialised options for them such a rhino pods or horn implants if not dehorned.

Tag systems give a presence or absence record – meaning an animal walks past a tower and it scans them as they walk past and counts that they were within range of the system. It doesn’t require a battery but doesn’t give exact location and needs many towers to cover an entire area, or that the animal walks within the tower range.

All this data is also highly confidential as it can be used by poachers to track movements and poach the animals. Collaring is also strictly controlled through multiple protocols that always takes the animal’s welfare into account first. There are strict regulations on collar weight and design per species, collaring only takes place for certain individuals at certain ages when there is a pressing reason, collars must be removed once no longer necessary (or drop off collars can be used), and the medical well being during any collaring event is strictly managed by the veterinarian as well as reserve managers according to their legal obligations. Most reserves only collar certain key animals for the period required (such as a wild dog alpha or youngsters showing signs of dispersal), and then remove the collar once it is no longer necessary.

Certain collars can have anti-snare capabilities which has saved an uncountable amount of African wild dogs, and can send mortality and resting signals depending on the set up. When fitted properly by experienced people, there is little hindrance to the animal and usually only positive outcomes through being able to monitor them when necessary.

Ubuntu Wildlife Trust continues to support collaring and monitoring work with our partner reserves and funds some of this work through our Wildlife Experiences programme, and others through our events and direct donations.