So how do you track an animal so notoriously difficult to see? With lots and lots of practice…
A very important aspect of the project is tracking the movements of the pangolin after release. We can measure the success of the release program by monitoring two aspects: survival and establishment of a stable home range.
In order to do this we are using the radio tracking technique of triangulation. This involves us locating the signal from the transmitter attached to the pangolin and taking a compass bearing of the direction the signal is coming from.
For practice we have been hiding transmitters in the forest and trying to locate them. On our first attempts, worryingly, our estimates were often 10 or 20 degrees off the actual bearing! However, lots and lots of practice has meant that on our latest attempts we were often only 3 degrees off-a huge improvement!
This morning we took our well developed skills to the release area to see from how far away we could pick up a signal. The release site itself is a lovely area of primary forest, with a nearby stream and many tree hollows and termite mounds-perfect pangolin habitat. However, in terms of radio tracking it is a challenging environment.
We are able to pick up a signal up to 500m away when we are in the forest, and 700m when we are on the road. However, the denseness of the forest and the undulation of the ground mean that there are some areas where a signal is a lot harder to pick up than others. We also have no idea just how far away the pangolin may move.
DO NOT FEAR THOUGH, we love a challenge and are already coming up with ideas on how to collect the best data possible, plus we also have some larger radio receivers which, in theory, should be able to pick up a signal form a transmitter up to 1.5km away. We will be testing them shortly, so keep your fingers crossed for us…