Through the eye of a Gobi khulan –Application of camera collars for ecological research of far-ranging species in remote and highly variable ecosystems
The Mongolian Gobi-Eastern Steppe Ecosystem is one of the largest remaining natural drylands and home to a unique assemblage of migratory ungulates. Connectivity and integrity of this ecosystem are at risk if increasing human activities are not carefully planned and regulated. The Gobi part supports the largest remaining population of the Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus; locally called “khulan”). Individual khulan roam over areas of thousands of square kilometers and the scale of their movements is among the largest described for terrestrial mammals, making them particularly difficult to monitor. Although GPS satellite telemetry makes it possible to track animals in near-real time and remote sensing provides environmental data at the landscape scale, remotely collected data also harbors the risk of missing important abiotic or biotic environmental variables or life history events. We tested the potential of animal borne camera systems (“camera collars”) to improve our understanding of the drivers and limitations of khulan movements. Download the open access paper here.
A short film the Wildlife Conservation Society recently premiered, One Planet That Sustains Us All, produced by the WCS in-house video team Natalie Cash and Jeff Morey, asks the provocative questions: “Have we humans evolved enough as a species to protect the air we breathe? The water that gives us life? The soils that feed us?”
A story referring to CSN and WCS by Jennifer S. Holland from the from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation
We’ve just returned from two remarkable weeks in (Republic of) Congo. There we visited WCS teams in Libonga, Bomassa, and Mondika. At the latter site, we were privileged enough to see habituated gorillas as they went about their daily routine. This extraordinary opportunity reflects years of effort on the part of trackers and research assistants, who have devoted themselves to gaining the trust of two local (and now habituated) gorilla troupes. There are only three such sites in the whole of the western gorilla habitat within Central Africa. All this has taken place on the backdrop of ever-advancing logging and mining infringement.
We were shepherded to the to the remote campsite by nimble and patient guides who tempered their pace to accommodate ours, pointing out scat from leopards, duiker and elephants along the way. Thanks to the tireless and knowledgeable Mondika team, we were then escorted through the florid forest to the gorillas’ home turf. As they adeptly cut their way through dauntingly dense bush, our chaperones expertly guided us to the best viewpoints while whispering individual information about each gorilla we encountered.
Initially, we met a cheeky youngster, bouncing rebelliously away from his mother’s protection. He exhibited the uncanny gorilla knack of looking simultaneously indifferent and inquisitive as he considered us. Later, we were astounded by a silverback’s voluptuous buttocks precariously saddling a slender branch 15 metres off the ground. Much to our delight (and relief) he swiftly and effortlessly descended from his improbable perch to join the group below. To see these magnificent creatures ‘at home’, relaxed in their natural environment, curiously observing us, was an incomparable and unforgettable gift.
We were told that a silverback in a habituated group appears to live longer than an unhabituated individual - perhaps because of satellite human activity that discourages other gorillas from challenging him. Furthermore, these animals may, on some level, comprehend this advantage. So a spirit of cooperation is in the air—gorillas cede some privacy in exchange for some protection.There is a valuable lesson here: sharing the environment, respecting all those that constitute and contribute to it, patiently working together - this mutual respect can promote balance and harmony in any circumstance.
As we bid farewell to the old year and welcome a new one, let us all strive for better appreciation of our neighbours and understanding of our environments- local and global. May we appreciate all the amazing creatures in our midst and aim to protect the planet that we share.
We often report on exciting and successful wildlife stories from afar, and this is certainly fun. However, in reality, much of our work is not in the least bit glamorous and fun. More often than not we are gathering information from behind our desks, endlessly staring at computer screens, and trying to connect with potential donors. Subsequently we travel through a multitude of airports with their endless security and immigration checks and on airplanes whose reliability decreases logarithmically with the distance from the starting point. Once on site, it is surprising how many conditions must necessarily align for us to actually get the work done. Many aspects are beyond our control, weather and the behaviour of the wildlife for one, but others like the relationships with administrations and project partners initially appear sound and solid but then spiral out of control. When things just do not want to align, you first and foremost want to have a great team with you at the field site. Good humour, coffee with fatty and sugary foods and the odd stiff drink during cold dark nights go a long way. Here a rare story on a failure in Kazakhstan earlier this year from the BBC: read more
Team waiting for days in a ranger station for kulan to be successfully captured - good food and and general good cheer go a long way in situations like this.
Collaring of khulan (Equus hemionus, https://lnkd.in/dzA4Yjv) to assess potential impacts of mining related infrastructure development and other anthropogenic developments in the southern Gobi of Mongolia (https://lnkd.in/dNYGYed). From 16-24 September 2018, a total of 30 khulan, 18 mares and 12 stallions, were successfully anaesthetised and collared. All animals were fitted with GPS-Iridium. Here a video showing the reversal of anaesthesia and release of a male khulan with a collar
Contrasting evolutionary history, anthropogenic declines and genetic contact in the northern and southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
The 2017 Conservation Impact Report from the Wildlife Conservation Society is available for download here
The pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) is a critically endangered wild suid historically widespread in the Himalyan foothills but now found only in Assam. It is the sole member of the genus porcula, the rarest of all swine species, and an important indicator of habitat health in the tall grass wetlands that it inhabits. In 1995 the Pygmy Hog Conservation Program (PHCP) was established through collaboration between Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippo Specialist Group, the Forest Department, Government of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
Through the efforts of PHCP, pygmy hogs have been successfully bred in captivity, and over 100 individuals have been released into suitable habitat in parks and sanctuaries within Assam. Camera traps have been used to track outcomes of these releases, but the dense tall grasses amongst which the pygmy hog lives makes follow-up monitoring challenging.
Recently, Drs. Chris Walzer (Wildlife Conservation Society) PK Walzer (CSN) and Endre Sòs (Budapest Zoo) travelled to Assam and partnered with PHCP colleagues Drs. Goutam Narayan and Parag Deka to perform surgical implantation of novel radio-telemetry transmitters in four pygmy hogs. The goal of these procedures is to enhance opportunity and efficacy of tracking these small and elusive animals after their release. These initial individuals will be tracked following their release in December 2017, and, based on the outcomes, more transmitters may be placed in future release candidates.
A few days ago we received a text message from Parag to let us know that two individuals have been successfully released into Orang NP. Tracking is going well and as expected. This effort represents a rewarding cross-pollination of ideas and experience and will hopefully enhance post-release assessment for this important conservation program.
PK & Chris December 2017