Game reserves are and always will be a large part of our country. South Africa is home to a wide variety of animal species and chief among them are our treasured Big 5 – with our two largest predators in the lot.
What are we to do then when the natural habitats and areas that these mighty animals call home, are slowly diminished as us humans start to expand and occupy them? Game reserves are the obvious solution, but they are generally limited in size and require some form of human intervention to keep the animals in check and the ecosystem balanced.
Enter the tracking collar, these are essential tools that game reserves have employed to help them manage and control their larger animal populations such as Lions, Cheetah, Wild dogs and Elephants.
Large animals require large spaces. A male lion roams vast distances to seek out other prides. While larger reserves like the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park have enough space to allow animals like this to roam freely. Smaller reserves, such as Dinokeng Game Reserve, have to manage them with much tighter control.
Collars are a vital link in the chain that allows game reserve management to do exactly that. They provide a host of valuable information to the management team that allows them to make important decisions regarding their control and ultimately their, and our, safety.
Tracking and Monitoring
The intention behind collaring animals is far more practical and precautionary than you might think. It is an act of preservation rather than one of cruelty. Collared animals are tracked via satellite and telemetry for various reasons such as;
Knowing where collared animals are, especially predators, is good to know and helps rangers to determine if an animal has escaped or is near human settlements. This allows rangers to swiftly and safely return them to the reserve or deter them away from any settlements.
Knowing where an animal is helps with an immediate threat but for the safety of the animals themselves, collars also track the animal’s movement over time. If there is no movement for a couple of days there is a chance the animal is injured or even snared. Rangers can then initiate a rescue if required.
The data collected by collars aids scientists in breakthrough discoveries for various species. While it’s preferred to not collar wild animals, it is sometimes necessary and the added benefit is the insights gained while collecting baseline data like home range sizes, daily movements, behavioural data and diet.
The Collaring process
In order to collar an animal in the wild there are a few measures that need to be taken to make the process as smooth and safe as possible.
First the animal needs to be darted in order for the rangers and vet (if needed) to safely approach them. For the most part, rangers are usually able to do this from their vehicles but in some cases they might need to enlist the help of a helicopter close enough.
Once the animal is darted it’s best to move them to an open area so as to give the team on the ground a larger field of view for any other approaching wildlife. As you can imagine family members or prides of a darted lion might not be all too willing to let a member of their pride be worked on without checking in for themselves.
There will likely be a wildlife vet with the ranger team to check the animal for any obvious issues, while the vet is doing their checks the ranger team will prepare the collar to be fitted. This is precision work as they need to ensure the collar is tight enough around the neck so as to not get snagged or slip off, yet loose enough to not choke the animal. Once the delicate balance is found they secure the collar and the vet administers the ‘wake-up’ jab.
A final word
It’s not ideal to have wild animals collared or for that matter tended to at all by humans, but in the world, we live in this is sometimes a necessity. What should give you peace is the fact that these devices are designed with the sole purpose of protecting the animal as well as the people around it.
In fact, you may be glad to know that design requirements for these collars are extremely strict like the weight being kept to no more than 5% of the animal’s body weight or is designed with metal plates that will prevent choking if the animal is caught in a snare.
Overall, collars may not be desirable, but in some cases, they are a necessary step that must be taken, however, they almost always improve the safety of the animal with little to no impact on its day to day life.