The process of tracking priority species using radio telemetry is not linear, even if the signals emanating from the animals’ collars are. When our volunteer group first arrived at iMfolozi camp, we frequently found the tell-tale beeps of the wild dogs and lions we were looking for using telemetry, but it turns out that ‘finding the beep’ is only the beginning.
HOW TELEMETRY WORKS
Telemetry is the wireless transmission and reception of measurable quantities of data used for remotely monitoring wildlife or environmental conditions. When we track the animals, volunteers take turns holding up the scanning antenna, which looks like something between a satellite and a coat hanger, turning it in slow circles until a beep on the receiver indicates we have picked up signal for the collar we are looking for.
WHEN TELEMETRY GETS TRICKY
Sometimes the signal is faint and weak; other times it is loud and strong, but often, even when the animal may be near, there is a tree, or a hill or something in the way obstructing our signal. This is where the challenge of tracking and monitoring wild animals becomes apparent and shows why telemetry is an art-form that takes huge amounts dedication and practice.
Fortunately, here at iMfolozi camp, the third time using radio telemetry was a charm. We sat patiently in the late-afternoon light with a strong signal coming from an area where the wild dogs have been found previously to be denning, hoping they would emerge for a hunt.
One side of iMfolozi is total wilderness, which is where the dogs wisely chose to make their den for their newest litter of puppies. Tracking this pack using telemetry is like playing hide and seek without being able to enter all the rooms. To see them, they would need to come to us. And that they did.
WILD DOGS COME OUT TO PLAY!
About 100 meters ahead of us appeared five pack members, including Iso and Macro – two of the collared dogs we’d been tracking. Seeing them for the first time was such a thrill.
Their intricate coat patterns and adorable rounded ears were spectacular to see up close, and witnessing an endangered species behaving naturally in its own environment is a truly special experience.
The dogs stayed within sight long enough for us to eventually have a visual of all the dogs in the pack and were thus able to collect the relevant information required for monitoring purposes.
Text by Wildlife ACT Volunteer Jen Ujifusa