Monitoring the distribution range and spatial utilisation of wildlife within a certain region or reserve is critically important. The distribution helps determine the carrying capacity of a specific species based on elements like competition, food and water availability and natural boundaries. Monitoring spatial utilisation also provides important information for key species that require focused protection like rhinoceros. Knowing an animal’s spatial distribution allows counter-poaching units to determine certain movement patterns allowing the unit to preempt the animal’s future locations and potential areas of concern like fence lines and roads.
Data accuracy is vital
The key to the success of this is the accuracy of the data collected. In previous years spatial utilisation was done on a visual basis only. This visual assessment was limited by accessibility to certain areas and daylight hours which proved to be a limiting factor for nocturnal species and those that moved in inaccessible areas. Today GPS technology has allowed us to generate pinpoint accuracy of animals movements at any location and at any time of the day or night. These points are easily strung together by date and time to create a pattern of movement. GPS transmitters have been modified to be put within a collar that can be fitted either around the neck or ankle of the animal.
The frequency of the waypoints can be remotely adjusted allowing for a more or less accurate pattern of movement. The challenge when it comes to satellite technology in wildlife collars remains around the longevity of the batteries. Batteries are still the limiting factor and the higher the frequency of way points taken and the smaller the collar the shorter the life span will be.
New age radio collars that have been ground-truethed to a stationery radio receiver providing more frequent readings of up to one every 30 seconds and allowing the collar the be active for 18-24 months has been developed. The limiting factor with this is the collar has to be in line of site with the receiver thus significantly reducing the distribution range and their effectiveness.
Radio tracking devices are however evolving on a daily basis the GCF intends to use existing technology and to help contribute to the development of new technology. The GCF intends to use GPS readings to synchronise with developing drone technology allowing the drones to fly to specific coordinates given off by the collars fitted on the animals. The drones will have the capacity to use either still or video imagery to monitor specific animals like Rhino.
The GCF will use the information received via the collars to update Donors of the foundation on the movement and success of animals like Rhino. It is the intention of the foundation to distribute Rhino throughout Africa and satellite technology will be key to monitoring the movement of Rhino throughout.