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A Review of the Use of Radio Telemetry in Indian Wildlife Research With a Special Reference to Indian Wild Ass

Surendra P. Goyal and Nita Shah, Wildlife Institute of India, P.O. Box 18, Dehra Dun 248001 India

Radio telemetry in Indian wildlife research is still in a primitive stage, barring a few attempts made during 1983 to 1997 to radio-tag 6 crocodiles, 23 Asian elephants, 8 Asiatic lions, 1 snow leopard, 2 chital, 2 sambar, 1 nilgai, 6 Indian flying fox, 4 jackals, 7 tigers, 2 Indian wild ass, 4 otters, 3 leopards, 1 jungle cat, and 3 wolves to collect information on ranging patterns, home range, and habitat use. Most of the radio-tagging was undertaken by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) researchers, and we discuss some of the problems faced during either radio tracking or data analysis. Tracking was mostly from ground to ground, and homing or direct sighting was preferred to locate radio-tagged animals, especially in mountainous terrain. Thus, it was possible to collect only one or two locations a day due to bounced signals, a very poor road network in the mountains, and poor tracking range. Another problem realized is to decide what is an ideal independent location. Attempts were made to locate animals based on triangulation, but it was hard for a tracking party to climb three or four ridges in mountains to take the minimum three or four bearings. Two radio transmitters with activity sensors (tip switch for head up or down) fitted on yellow and blue colored collars were used to tag two mares of the endangered Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur). We observed differences in tracking range when the transmitter was tested on and off an animal. In salt desert, one of the radio tagged wild asses which died could not be tracked even up to 600 m on flat terrain. Wild asses were easy to track during day time as they were in open flat areas due to disturbances in their foraging grounds. Animals foraged around dusk in thorny scrub forest during summer. We were not able to track during night once the animal was out of the tracking range ca. 1.5 to 2.0 km due to the absence of a good road network. For the first time in India we tried to record activity patterns using a Telemetry Digital Processor and recorder, but we did not have much success in recording Indian wild ass activity for >5 hr in a day after dusk. We failed to characterize some of the activities except active or non-active periods and whether the head was up or down. Similar problems were noticed while trying to characterize activity patterns of elephants fitted with a basic tracking transmitter. Differences in home range size (minimum convex polygon) were observed when calculated based on day, night, and diel locations of wild ass. Home ranges calculated based on day locations of wild ass were quite small as animals showed fidelity to the sites while resting. Similar problems were also observed while working on sambar in semi-arid habitat during summer as it was difficult to track animals on foot during night in mountainous tiger country. Some of the problems faced in using null-point detection and an antenna mounted on a long mast are discussed. Biotelemetry transmitters for recording temperature (Mini Mitter) and temperature heat flux were used in Indian desert gerbil and domestic goats, respectively. We faced problems in counting beeps, especially when body temperature was >40°C, and fixing heat flux-temperature transmitters on animals. We would like to discuss such problems during this forum and possible solutions. Major constraints using radiotelemetry in India are cost, non-availability of equipment, and some administrative problems, especially for endangered species.

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