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Researchers international leaders in satellite tracking in the wildlife environment
2015-05-29

 

Ground-breaking research has attracted international media attention to Francois Deacon, lecturer and researcher in the Department Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the UFS, and Prof Nico Smit, from the same department. They are the first researchers in the world to equip giraffes with GPS collars, and to conduct research on this initiative. Recently, they have been joined by Hennie Butler from the Department of Zoology as well as Free State Nature Conservation to further this research.

“Satellite tracking is proving to be extremely valuable in the wildlife environment. The unit is based on a mobile global two-way communication platform, utilising two-way data satellite communication, complete with GPS systems.

“It allows us to track animals day and night, while we monitor their movements remotely from the computer. These systems make possible the efficient control and monitoring of wildlife in all weather conditions and in near-to-real time. We can even communicate with the animals, calling up their positions or changing the tracking schedules.

“The satellite collar allows us to use the extremely accurate data to conduct research with the best technology available. The volume of data received allows us to publish the data in scientific journals and research-related articles.  

“Scientific institutions and the public sector have both shown great interest in satellite tracking, which opens up new ground for scientific research for this university. Data management can be done, using Africa Wildlife Tracking (AWT) equipment where we can access our data personally, store it, and make visual presentations. The AWT system and software architecture provide the researcher with asset tracking, GPS location reports, geo-fencing, highly-detailed custom mapping, history reports and playback, polling on demand, history plotting on maps, and a range of reporting types and functions,” Francois said.

Data can be analysed to determine home range, dispersal, or habitat preference for any specific species.

Francois has been involved in multiple research projects over the last 12 years on wildlife species and domesticated animals, including the collaring of species such as Black-backed Jackal, Caracal, African Wild Dog, Hyena, Lion, Cheetah, Cattle, Kudu, Giraffe, and Black Rhino: “Giraffe definitely being the most challenging of all,” he said.

In 2010, he started working on his PhD, entitled The spatial ecology, habitat preferences and diet selection of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa) in the Kalahari region of South Africa.

 

Since then, his work has resulted not only in more research work (supervising four Masters students) but also in a number of national and international projects. These include work in the:

  • Kalahari region (e.g. Khamab Nature Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park)
  • Kuruman region (Collared 18 cattle to identify spatial patterns in relation to the qualities of vegetation and soil-types available. This project took place in collaboration with Born University in Germany)
  • Woodland Hills Wildlife Estate and Kolomella Iron Ore – ecological monitoring
  • A number of Free State nature reserves (e.g. Distribution of herbivores (kudu and giraffe) and predators (camera traps)

Francois is also involved with species breeding programmes and management (giraffe, buffalo, sable, roan, and rhino) in Korrannaberg, Rustenburg, Hertzogville, Douglas, and Bethlehem as well as animal and ecological monitoring in Kolomella and Beesthoek iron ore.

Besides the collaring of giraffes, Francois and his colleagues are involved in national projects, where they collect milk from lactating giraffes and DNA material, blood samples, and ecto/endo parasites from giraffes in Southern Africa.

With international projects, Francois is working to collect DNA material for the classification of the nine sub-species of giraffe in Africa. He is also involved in projects focusing on the spatial ecology and adaptation of giraffe in Uganda (Murchison Falls), and to save the last 30 giraffe in the DRC- Garamba National Park.

This project has attracted a good deal of international interest. In June 2014, a US film crew (freelancing for Discovery Channel) filmed a documentary on Francois’ research (trailer of documentary). Early in 2015, a second crew, filming for National Geographic, also visited Francois to document his work.

 

More information about Francois’ work is available at the GCF website

Read Francois Deacon's PhD abstract

Direct enquiries to news@ufs.ac.za.

 

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