GPS collars a win-win for animals and research

24-May-2013

CDU Senior Research Fellow Clive McMahon
CDU Senior Research Fellow Clive McMahon has contributed to a project highlighting issues around the use of GPS collars to track animal movements

Global Positioning System devices that track the movement of wild animals to inform conservation and management plans have proved of benefit to man and beast.

Charles Darwin University’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods Senior Research Fellow Dr Clive McMahon contributed to a project highlighting issues around the use of GPS devices for monitoring terrestrial animal movement.

Data from 24 studies throughout Australia where GPS collars were used on 13 species, including dingoes, cats, foxes, kangaroos, koalas, pademelons, possums, quolls, wallabies, and wombats, was used to investigate issues relating to use and reliability of the devices.

“GPS offers researchers a powerful tool to track fine-scale animal movements however, GPS signals can be interrupted by dense bush when tracking terrestrial animals,” Dr McMahon said.

“Instruments rarely fail and often have a VHF transmitter incorporated in the device to help with recovery for data retrieval.

“Problems with recovering GPS collars can lead to insufficient data availability. This is disappointing for wildlife scientists, who often work with limited budgets, short timeframes and limited resources.

“Insufficient data can negatively affect the development of sound policy for the conservation of protected species and management of feral animals.

“Despite these issues, GPS wildlife telemetry collars are still regarded as the most effective way to understand the movement patterns of wild animals.”

Dr McMahon also made observations on animal welfare.

“It is important to know if fitting animals with GPS tracking devices negatively affects their welfare,” Dr McMahon said.

“There have been concerns the devices might negatively impact animal growth, survival and movement, and cause unnecessary stress to the animal.

“No evidence of negative impacts to animals carrying GPS devices has been found. This is due to the use of equipment specifically designed for the animal and purpose.”

The project was coordinated by Charles Sturt University.

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