Tracking and Collaring Tapirs
by Kendra Bauer
We have eleven tapirs radio collared in the area around Sirena Biological Station, Costa Rica. To follow the tapirs we use a telemetry system that sends a signal from the collar to the hand-held receiver. The receiver beeps louder the closer we are to the collared tapir. However this does not tell us exactly where the tapir is; it only gives us the general area. To find out where the tapir actually is we have to use a little geometry.
For each tapir location we get two compass bearings. These bearings are used with telemetry software to triangulate the actual position of the tapir. This is done for each tapir six times a month. We get a total of 144 readings a month, or 72 locations a month for all twelve tapirs. See the locations dataset in the right-hand Media Gallery for an example of the kinds of data we collect.
These collars have to be very heavy-duty. Each day the tapir will submerge the collars (and themselves) in thick mud and water, so the collars have to be waterproof. The collars chosen for this project have worked well for the past12 years. There have been no recorded instances of these collars having a negative effect on tapir social behavior. There is no decreased reproductive rate or mate avoidance from these collars. Tapirs donít seem to care that they are on.
The work does not stop here! We have to maintain the collars. Each collar will last two to three years. So, every two to three years we have to anesthetize each tapir and remove the collars. This is no small job. We have to locate the tapir and then mix a special tapir cocktail of anesthetics. This mixture has proven to work very well with the tapirs. The tapir is then darted. After the tapir has received the dose, they get sleepy. They gently lay themselves on the ground and we place earplugs and blindfolds on them to keep them comfortable and to minimize any disturbance to them.
We try to obtain as many samples as we can from each tapir knockdown to get the most out of each procedure. We collect ticks, small piece of skin (for genetic testing), teeth molds, and body measurements. After all samples are collected, we inject the tapir with a reversal drug to wake it up. The tapir wakes up and we can continue to track the tapir using the telemetry unit.
About the author:
Kendra Bauer is a doctoral student at the University of
Texas in Austin, Texas.
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