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Guide to available technologies for wildlife tracking, Part 1.

My company, Telemetry Solutions, does a lot of business with universities and people who are new to wildlife tracking so I have started this series to educate potential new users of wildlife tracking technologies.  The intention here is to save you time at the beginning telemetry learning experience and to help guide you to the appropriate technology for your wildlife research project.

The most prolific tracking equipment in wildlife studies is VHF transmitters.  They have been around since the ‘60s.  Wildlife biologists continue to use them by tracking the VHF signal with a VHF receiver and directional antenna. These are labor intensive devices that are most often tracked manually. The flip side to their labor intensive nature is that they are inexpensive so if you have a lot of cheap labor and very little money they are the obvious choice. 

There is another technology called PIT tags.  These utilize a tiny transponder and are most often used for fish.  Because the PIT tag has no power source and derives its power from the device that registers or reads it, the tag has to pass through a field containing the power.  The field is created by the reader coupled with an antenna and has very short range.  For fish traveling either up or down stream it’s perfect as one can set up the antenna system either on shore or over the river and when the fish passes by a data logger can record that event.  These probably have little usefulness on terrestrial animal projects.

Moving on to a more high tech device we come to the PTT tags.  These are satellite transmitters that utilize an old and small satellite communication system called ARGOS.  ARGOS has been around since the ‘70s.  While the transmitters have gotten smaller the number of satellites in orbit remains small and that means that the user has only certain windows of opportunity in which data can be sent from the transmitter to the satellite.  These PTT tags, in their rawest form, are merely satellite transmitters.  However a hybrid system has developed that utilizes the ARGOS system to relay GPS position data stored in a collar.  Please don’t confuse ARGOS with GPS, the only thing they have in common is that they both utilize satellites, the similarities end there.  ARGOS tends to be a rather expensive system to use in that one has monthly subscription fees to pay while the study is ongoing. 

Another system is GPS.  GPS is a global satellite system that transmits signals down to the earth all the time.  There are usually over 20 operational GPS satellites in orbit at any given time. Each satellite contains two atomic clocks so that there is a precise time stamp on every signal sent from the satellite.  As the position of the satellite in space is known, the time the signal is sent is known and the speed at which that signal travels is known, a GPS receiver can calculate position by triangulation of the signals received from the satellites.  Signals from at least 3 satellites must be received in order for the GPS receiver to generate a position.  The GPS receiver is the device that the animal carries. GPS has been around since the ‘70s too but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it became a platform available for commercial use.  There are no subscription fees associated with the GPS satellite system, it comes to the world for free through the generosity of Uncle Sam.

In Part 2, I will complete this list and begin to elaborate on other options associated with each.  For now you can find more information on our website at www.telemetrysolutions.com or by searching for our YouTube videos using the search term telemetry solutions on the YouTube search engine.


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