Action D3: Radio Telemetry Tracking

Action D3: Radio Telemetry Tracking

Funding the base of large carnivore conservation in Hungary

ID no.: LIFE00/NAT/H/7162

Radio telemetry tracking

The DoWBGM intends to carry out radio telemetry tracking of wolves and lynxes. The aims of the study are to clarify the type of relation with the neighbouring populations, the individual habitat preferences of the animals, the size of their territory and other characteristics and habits. All these may serve as a starting point for developing further habitat conservation programs and management.

The study is focused on the Aggtelek region, next to the Slovakian border, in an area of almost 6 000 ha. Here the DoWBGM has prepared for the radio telemetry tracking. There were 15 box traps purchased as well as 50 specially developed snare-traps constructed directly to catch large carnivores alive for research purposes. (Traps used by the DoWBGM for trapping fully satisfy the Hungarian and international legal regulations on animal protection. The Hungarian regulation is somewhat stricter than that of the EU. Therefore, we are not allowed to use traditional leg-hold traps and stopped snares.)

The first year of the project was spent by the design, produce and testing of the traps. All necessary permits were obtained for the examination from the co-operating national parks. The traps were installed in the areas most visited by large carnivores, as learnt from the observations. Since checking the traps would mean daily disturbance, to ensure a more efficient operation, the traps were equipped by a radio control system that alarms in case of catching an animal or when it is damaged. The traps are controlled by the expert of the DoWBGM who lives in the investigated area.

When capturing and marking the animals, we always bear in mind to avoid any unnecessary irritation. To reduce the stress of catching and to prevent any injuries, the animal captured is immobilized as soon as it is possible (hopefully within two hours) using a safe narcotic (a mixture of ketamin and xylazin). It is released then, when it is fully awake, at the place of catching. The marking is carried out when the animal is asleep. The scientists of the DoWBGM have a great experience in catching, marking and tracking different animal species by radio telemetry.

The radio collar used for marking has been especially designed for large carnivores (TELEVILT, Sweden). The lifespan of the radio beacons is of 3-3,5 years. So far 5 lynx and 5 wolf collars have been bought. All radio collars are indicated with individual color combination. The latter helps the identification during visual observation. For radio telemetry measures we purchased a professional receiver (TELEVILT RX 900) with an adequate tracking antenna. We have been using similar equipment in our programs since 1992 with good results.

After the preparations trapping was started. During 2002 trapping was intensively carried out in the region of the research area close to Aggtelek. From among the 50 snare-traps and 15 box traps altogether 7 box traps and 34 snares were placed out. The number of traps set up was influenced by the number of suitable trapping locations, the presence of animals, the size of the area that can be perambulated regularly within a day and safety aspects. Trapping was the most intense wintertime and due to the reproduction period it was suspended for a few months in early spring. Under one and half a year we captured animals 8 times, of which 6 were foxes, 1 was a badger and 1 was a wild boar.

Regarding the first results, efforts were made to make the trapping more effective and more intensive. The next trapping period started in next October with the 7 box traps and about 20 snare-traps. During this period we captured animals 37 times, mainly foxes (29 foxes, 6 badgers, 1 jay and 1 buzzard).

Based on our trapping experiences in the last one and half a year, it can be stated that from among the several kind of traps (box trap, snare-trap) the box trap proved to be the most efficient. (But the efficiency of these traps is still much less than that of the traditional leg-hold traps and stopped snares, which are forbidden to use in Hungary). The most efficient bait is rabbit. It was experienced many times that after the wolves had noticed the bait they did not come closer than 2-3 meters. Regarding the operation of the traps, generally they operate properly. However, there are minor problems with the radio transmitters (trap control). During the unusually cold winter period the radios sometimes did not operate and the snare traps set out long ago got frozen. Another problem was that 20% of the snare-traps and two box traps were damaged or stolen by unknown persons shortly after setting them or later on. Notwithstanding the efforts done, not any wolf or lynx could be marked so far with radio collar.

Though the radio-telemetry measuring could not yet start, the daily perambulations of the areas in connection with trapping allowed researchers to make useful observations. While checking the traps during one and half a year preys of wolves have been seen 39 times and once a prey of a lynx was observed. Most of the preys of the wolves were deer (Table 1). The location of the preys and the evaluation of other traces show that wolves prefer those areas which are less disturbed by humans. In the areas suffering more from human activity (hunting, tourism, people collecting antlers, picking mushrooms) significantly less traces indicating the presence of large carnivores could be found.

Table 1: Wolf preys found

Species / Number
Red deer / 28 /4♂, 24♀/
Wild boar / 8 /3♂, 5♀/
Roe-deer / 3 /3♀/

Once we found a lynx carcass hit by train.

Comparing data collected in course of the trap control (see Map 1 at the end of text) and data collected during the monitoring it was concluded that the number of large carnivores in the area decreased in the last year compared to the previous years. This fact further worsens the chances of trapping. The low number of lynx observation is worrisome. The suddenly disappeared lynx and the decrease in the number of wolves all indicate illegal killings. There is already available information on that.

The Aggtelek area is of great importance both from the point of view of the occurrence of large carnivores and of the project. Therefore the DoWBGM tries to eliminate here every problem endangering the re-colonization of large carnivores and the success of the project, as soon as possible. We implemented the following measures:

-In order to establish a stable population of large carnivores along the border it is necessary to create an undisturbed area that possesses the necessary ecological conditions and is in connection with the Slovakian populations. It is also necessary to increase the patrolling of this area.

-The protection of large carnivores in this area should enjoy priority. The ideal solution to achieve this would be if the hunting organized here were supervised exclusively by the nature conservation authorities or by the DoWBGM. To achieve this, measures have been initiated at the new management of the ONC, at the competent national park and at the state forestry company responsible for the wildlife management.

-The presence of a committed expert will be necessary in the area until the arrangements are made. With his help, by establishing personal contacts, the malicious mischief of the traps, the disturbance by people collecting antler or picking mushroom and poaching can be kept back. The expert employed in the project and living in the area is responsible for this task as well. In our belief this is necessary for the implementation of the project and it does not hinder, moreover, it helps to carry out the tasks undertaken.

Further tasks

On the basis of the experiences the DoWBGM has to be prepared for the failure of radio tracking due to the restricted trapping abilities. However, the goals of the radio-telemetry, at least partly, can be achieved by other methods, too. Survey methods that are effective and able to provide similar results also in the case of low numbered population are searched for. Surveys should give an answer to the following questions in connection with the behaviour of animals:

  • How many animals can be found in the area?
  • How large territory do they use?
  • What is the relation between the populations on the two sides of the Slovakian border?

The drift across the border can be detected by intensive search for and following of the tracks. It is possible mainly in the winter. The location of large carnivore signs should be determined by GPS, so position can be gained similarly to radio tracking. This method is not as effective as radio tracking and does not allow distinguishing animals individually, but provides valuable data for the planning of harmonized actions. The estimation of distribution on both sides of the border can also provide information. This work was started two years ago and it is in progress now. We have good connection with the Slovakian colleagues. The accession to the EU on the 1st of May of 2004 will facilitate this co-operation.

To increase the number of observations and to be able to estimate the number of individuals more correctly, the DoWBGM promotes the collection of nests lined with hair. Depending on the condition of the collected hairs, the DNA of the hair follicles is retrievable. According to the results – as the DNA is specific to each individual – it is possible to identify the specimens by DNA analysis. Thus it can be estimated more precisely how many animals live in the area. Moreover, this method completed with an intensive nest collection and GPS positioning can result in information on individual home ranges. A big advantage of the hair collection and analysis is that the method does not disturb the animal at all. In order to increase the efficiency of the survey even more, it may be supplemented by the analysis of DNA extracted from faeces.

The collection and physical selection of hairs has already started. In order to make the necessary DNA analysis, the DoWBGM has to find an appropriate DNA laboratory. It will take about a year before the DNA analysis can begin. Until then the collection of nests and microscopic analysis of hairs will take place as intensively as it is possible without disturbing the habitat of large carnivores.

Map 1.

Wolf observations of DoWBGM

Project manager: Laszlo Szemethy PhD

Contact person: Marta Markus