May 23, 2019

Are Radio Tracking Collars Just a Waste of Money?

One might think so.

I was reading last night a story about what authorities in Minnesota are saying is killing their moose. According to this report, Minnesota once had 8,840 moose in 2006 and now there are only 3,710 “based on aerial surveys in January.”

What about those surveys?

We are told that that between 2013 and 2015, 173 moose were collared as part of a planned study to determine why the moose were dying. It has been reported that because of animal rights perverts’ complaints about the study (probably fearing the study might prove their ideology wrong), the governor stopped any further collaring of moose and essentially the study ended and one has to wonder whether much or any of the information they claim to publish is worth camel dung.

The report says, “Of 173 moose that were captured and fitted with GPS-transmitting collars from 2013 to 2015, here’s what happened to them:

* 28 moose are still alive with collars that are working.

* 53 are believed to be alive but their collars have stopped working.

* 23 are presumed to be still alive but their collars fell off and their status is unknown.
* 12 died immediately after being collared so were not part of the mortality study.
* 57 died with working collars and are the basis for the mortality study data — the moose where cause of death is known”
57 moose, out of 3,710 is the sample used in making their determinations as to what is killing Minnesota’s moose. I doubt that the pie chart they have provided is very accurate and can tell us only what perhaps killed those 57 moose.
But it gets worse. Minnesota officials tell us that collars are very problematic. “It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. But it’s still a developing technology. Everyone who uses collars like this has issues. There’s a lot that can go wrong,”
The report also contains some other interesting bits of information. As an example, some have determined that the moose are “malnourished.” Undernourishment is being blamed on habitat and there are indications that the highest survival rates for moose are coming in areas that recently saw very large forest fires and the forests have begun to regenerate.
In addition, calf survival rates are running around 30% which, if accurate, tells us it is doubtful that there would be any growth in the moose herd contributed from newborn moose. And, those moose calves, according to Minnesota officials, are being killed mostly by wolves and bear.
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Collaring Wild Animals: Scientific Research or Playing With Technology?

The manufacture, sale and use of radio telemetry collars for animal research is a racket and perhaps a serious waste of dollars. Depending upon the model of telemetry collar selected for each use, the cost of one such collar can run into the thousands of dollars. One must ask then if the cost of the collars is worth the return on investment? Well, that depends.

What we do know is that using tracking collars for wildlife is big business and a very popular thing to do. The tax payers like it because of their perverse love, adoration and all out worship of any kind of animal…well, until such animals become a real threat to them. The average tax payer doesn’t know how the collar is used and seldom is any “scientific research” information/data shared with the public. When it is, a trained eye recognizes very little scientific process and whole lot of speculation and theory swapping.

When it is a most difficult task to receive information from state fish and wildlife agencies about their “ongoing studies,” some of us are left to only guess what it is they are using collars on animals for and what actual data is being collected. So, let’s take a look at what is, might and could be done with a tracking collar.

What got me thinking about this popular event of tracking animals with radio telemetry, was an exchange of emails among a handful of wildlife scientists about this very subject. The foundation of discussion was centered around an article written about a collared wolf in British Columbia, Canada that was tracked along a route covering over 300 miles (not unusual). The journey for the wolf came to an end when it was legally shot and killed by a hunter. Of course this prompted outrage from the above described group of perverse, adoring wolf worshipers. But that’s not the topic of this immediate discussion.

In the email exchange, questions arose about what, if any, data and information was being collected on this wolf other than to know where the male wolf was at any point in time when a “data point” was sent (telemetry) and recorded on a computer. One scientist commented: “Reading the story makes me suspect that the wolves are collared and then left alone, while “researchers” are watching wiggly lines on the computer screen – and start guessing what is going on.”

Which brings us back to one of my original comments that because of the stinginess of researchers to share information, minus their speculations, the rest of us are left to guess (our own speculation) as to just what it is they are doing or not doing.

It seems about the only place we can get any information about studies is through the “Echo Chambers” of the Press. The vast majority of news media personnel are nothing more than “copy and paste” writers who wouldn’t understand what a true scientific process was if it was spelled out for them. As such, what is reverberated in the echo chambers is the Environmentalist’s nonsense, most often including speculation and theorizing about each collared animal based on placing human values on the animals – i.e. a guess as to what animals might be thinking, doing, etc. based more than likely on human projection of human values.

The State of Maine claims to be in the middle of a moose study. I have written extensively on this project and moose management in general. You can search this website, mostly under the Maine Hunting column.

What has been doled out to the public, which we have no idea if this is an actual reflection of the study, is that biologists placed collars on a hundred or so calf moose and some cows. It has been passed on that the purpose of the “study” is to find out the effects of winter ticks (moose ticks – Dermacentor albipictus) on moose mortality. All that we have been told is that when one of the collars stops moving, the collar sends a signal notifying researchers of the non movement. Somebody will go find the stationary collar (as quickly as possible – wink, wink) and attempt to determine what killed the moose.

This is one function that we are allowed to know about, evidently. But what kind of science is this? Or is it any kind of scientific research that will provide data and observation in order to find out more useful information in order to create better management plans? Who knows. It would seem that if any fish and game department was going to go through the expense and time to trap and collar moose, a full spectrum of scientific observation, collection of data, and analysis would be implemented into the effort. Is it? Who knows.

If the only thing these researchers are doing is sitting in front of a computer screen, in their comfortable offices, “watching wiggly lines” so somebody can go to the site where they think a moose died in hopes of determining cause of death, what is the real value of placing the collars on the moose?

It appears the collars work pretty good for “tracking.” Watching wiggly lines on a computer screen can tell biologists where a moose has gone over any prescribed length of time. They receive a signal when a collar becomes motionless for a period of time. Suggesting the collared animal might be dead, researchers journey into the woods to see what they can find…we are told.

Then what?

How well trained are the biologists in determining cause of death? So, they get to the scene and see a dead moose. It’s covered with winter ticks. The moose looks emaciated and missing hair/fur. No cuts, scratches, etc. are noticed on the moose and is it assumed that the moose died from the effects of the winter ticks? Other than tracking this moose on a computer screen, did researchers enter the woods on a regular basis in order to know, not speculate, what this dead moose had been up to over the weeks and months prior to it’s death? Where was the moose when it died, and in relation to where it normally “hung out?” How is this fact relevant to making a determination of its cause of death? Did the moose actually die of exhaustion, due to a combination of a low blood supply from the ticks, poor nutrition (it is winter you know) and being harassed by predators, including harassment by humans – both scientists and the general public? If it appears the moose was partially eaten, are the biologists adequately trained in making determinations of the kill tactics of predator suspects? How many of such kills has each scientist seen and been a part of? Are they trained to know when the dead animal became a meal for scavengers or when it became a meal by the kill of a predator?

What other data is collected on this moose? Is a full necropsy (animal autopsy) done, along with checking for all diseases and health issues? Moose calves are probably too young to have contracted what Maine biologists like to call “lung worm,” also known as Hydatid cysts caused by the existence of Echinococcus granulosus parasites carried and spread by wild canines (coyotes, foxes, raccoons). It has been shown that this disease exists in moose in the state of Maine. An infected moose, having cysts in the lungs, heart or liver, can seriously hamper a moose’s ability to escape danger from predators. Is this aspect of a moose’s death even considered, or is it just passed off as death by winter ticks? It is important to know the differences if ever there was hope to do anything about the problem.

Tracking a moose, or any other animal, with a radio telemetry collar can tell biologists where a moose is at pretty much any given point in time. One could argue that is science, but if you call that science it isn’t very good science.

Another scientist in our email discussion referred to this action this way: “…just data points that merely define where they [collared animals] are at a given time. What they are doing, which really matters, is left to interpretation, [and] conjecture. Until an effort is made to “follow” as closely as possible the movements of radio-collared animals, we can expect more “Research Lite.”

It is not a simple task to net a moose and snap a collar around it’s neck, wait to see if it’s going to die and then go find it to see if you can tell what killed it. However, is that effort alone worth the time and expense? Before this “study” began, I really don’t think it took a highly educated wildlife biologist to figure out winter ticks were knocking the hell out of the state’s moose herd.

What other information is being gathered and will any of the rest of us get to see it and not be relegated to the end of the line waiting for another copy and paste edition of our favorite echo chamber? I’m guessing the latter.

Who knows!

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Delaware Discovers High Mortality From Collars, Maine Adds More Collars

In Delaware, researchers discover that collars placed around the necks of deer, for an ongoing study, resulted in neck injures and death.

Researchers expected a percentage of study animals would be killed or injured by hunters, vehicles and disease, but Hopkins, about a dozen other landowners participating in the study, state and University of Delaware researchers and the manufacturer were shocked to find that a small sample were being hurt by the equipment used to passively study their life cycle.

“There are hunters and landowners that have been made aware of the injuries and are upset or disappointed, and justifiably so,” said Joe Rogerson, program manager for species conservation and research with the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife. “We’re as frustrated, if not more so, than they are.” <<<Read More>>>

In Maine, 70 more moose are collared to expand ongoing moose study area.

IFW Captures and Collars 70 Moose , Expands Maine’s Moose Survival Study Into Second Area

AUGUSTA, Maine – Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists in northern Aroostook County just finished capturing and radio-collaring moose in a new “northern” study area as part of Maine’s five-year moose study that will provide a greater understanding of the health of Maine’s moose population, particularly factors that affect their survival and reproductive rates, including the impact of winter ticks on moose.

“Maine’s moose occupy a variety of habitat across their range in the state. By adding a second study area to the north we can bolster our study and get a better understanding of moose survival and reproductive rates, and the factors that impact them,” said Lee Kantar, Maine’s moose biologist.

Biologists and a helicopter-based aerial capture team will capture and collar 106 adult female and calf moose. They just completed capturing and collaring 70 moose in the Aroostook study area, and now will capture and collar an additional 36 calf moose in the existing study area located between Jackman and Greenville. There already are over 40 collared moose in the Jackman/Greenville study area. When finished, IFW biologists will be able to monitor 150 total moose in the two study areas.

IFW has contracted with Native Range Capture Services out of Elko, Nevada to capture 106 moose. The crew specializes in capturing and collaring large animals and is using a helicopter and launched nets to capture and collar female moose and calves. Funding for the study comes from a federal Pittman-Robertson grant (funded by the sale of hunting equipment) and the state’s dedicated moose fund (funded through sale of moose permit applications and permits).

“Once the moose is captured, the crew attaches a GPS collar and ear tags, collects a blood, hair and fecal sample, takes a tick count and weighs the animal,” said Lee Kantar, “The entire process takes between 10 and 12 minutes and then the moose is released unharmed.”

Crews started capturing and collaring moose last week and finished in the northern study area yesterday. They started flying in the western study area today.  Once Native Range finishes in Maine, they will travel to a similar job in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is conducting a study similar to Maine, in an area further south than the two Maine study areas. The two states are sharing information gathered during the study.

Once collared, the GPS-enabled collars transmit twice per day, providing biologists the ability to track moose movements. The GPS collars are expected to transmit location signals for four years. If there is no movement for a certain period of time, the collar transmits a mortality signal, and biologists will then travel overland to investigate the cause of death.

“Once we receive a mortality signal, we locate the dead moose within 24 hours,” said Kantar. Biologists conduct an extensive field necropsy on each moose, taking blood, tissue and fecal samples that will later be analyzed by the University of Maine-Animal Health Lab as well as other specialized diagnostic facilities,.

This is the third year of the monitoring study. Additional moose and calves will be captured and collared next year.

The radio collar study is just one component of the research that IFW conducts on moose.

IFW also utilizes aerial flights to assess population abundance and the composition of the moose herd. During the moose hunting season, biologists also examine teeth to determine a moose’s age, measure antler spread, monitor the number of ticks a moose carries, and examine cow ovaries in November to determine reproductive rates.

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Official Shoots and Kills Elk Because Radio Collar Wouldn’t Release

This entire story tells us there are serious flaws with the methods being employed to study elk with radio telemetry and that stupidity rules at many levels of government.

In the Wind Cave National Park, one elk that was wearing a radio collar was shot and killed by a park official because it was time to get the collar off the elk and it wouldn’t release and fall off as designed. From an AP report it reads:

The collar, which is part of an elk study, was nearing the end of its active life but had failed to disconnect from the elk’s neck on radio command, officials said. Once radio signals stopped, possibly in a week or two, it would have been nearly impossible to find the elk and recover the collar.

So, officials had “possibly in a week or two” to find the elk. They killed it anyway. Would it have harmed the elk to leave the damned collar on it? Perhaps the brilliant officials at the park should allow a bit more time than “perhaps a week or two” before they attempt to release the collar. With more time, they could improve their chances of finding the elk. Officials should have known the difficulty in tracking down and tranquilizing an elk as somebody had to have caught up with the elk in the first place to place the collar on it.

But the real question here also becomes where are the hypocritical animal worshipers protesting the unnecessary killing of an elk? Oh, that’s right. The animal killed was a game animal and not one of their precious predators those so perverse bow down to.

There certainly is no lack of ignorance, stupidity and perversion.

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