Collars for Conservation
What are wildlife collars and what do they do?
Wildlife collars are used to collect lion and cheetah location data (GPS) at set time intervals. This data is then received by the Mara Predator Conservation Programme team through satellite communication, which allows us to continuously and intensively monitor the collared animals, helping us to learn more about their behaviour and threats they face, in order for us to devise solutions and recommendations to help protect them.
How collars help big cat conservation
Big cats face a kaleidoscope of threats around the world and in the Mara, and collars help us to better understand, identify and respond to these threats. For example, cheetah and lion collars enable us to:
- Identify important areas and habitats that are used by cheetahs and lions, including wildlife corridors
- Understand how human-led changes (e.g. erection of fences) affect cheetah and lion movement and behaviour
- Keep track of cubs being born
- Determine how much time cheetahs and lions spend outside protected areas and how prone they are to human-wildlife conflict
- Understand issues related to disease transmission e.g. mange in cheetah
- Be immediately alerted when a cheetah or lion has died. The collar sends a mortality signal if the animal has been stationary for a significant period of time. This allows us to investigate any natural and human-caused death in a timely manner, and be more likely to accurately determine the specific cause of death.
Sub-adult male lion monitoring
Dispersing sub-adult males (those who have left their ‘home’ pride but have not yet found or established a pride of their own) are frequently nomadic for years, wandering over vast distances and often coming into contact with humans and livestock. They are the main demographic of lion associated with human-lion conflict, so we use lion collars to help alert us to potential problems and reduce the impact of any conflict.
Sub-adult males are also largely responsible for connecting sub-populations of lions and maintaining genetic diversity within a population. In an ever-evolving ecosystem like the Greater Mara, lion collars will help to identify priority landscapes for protection.
Considering that two of the major threats facing lions are human-lion conflict and habitat fragmentation, we focus on dispersing male lions when it comes to collaring, as they provide the most relevant and useful information for conservation planning. Without collars, we would never understand exactly what is happening to this vital demographic of lions in the Mara.
The tourist experience
We find that discussions with tourists about collars are some of the most interesting we have! We fully appreciate that some people do not like seeing a collar on an animal, until they hear why collars are so important for conservation. In our experience, once the value of a collar is explained to a tourist or group, it can actually enhance their experience as they witness conservation happening before their own eyes, in the middle of their safari. We partner closely with safari guides and camps around the Mara to ensure that people understand why we collar big cats and how it helps with their conservation.
Our mission is to conserve predators and so we take their welfare extremely seriously. The following will ensure that no harm will be done to the big cats we collar:
- Cheetah collars will only be 400 grams which is about 1% of a cheetah’s body weight. This is actually considerably less than the recommended weight! At this level, a collar will not affect the cheetah’s ability to hunt or run at great speed.
- We partner with KWS to ensure that all immobilisations that are needed to deploy collars are done by a qualified veterinarian
- Our collars are made by African Wildlife Tracking, a company with a great deal of experience in designing and manufacturing cheetah and lion collars