Wildlife Conservation at Crossroads: Reassessing Radio-Collaring Practices and Ethical Considerations

In a recent turn of events, the death of nine cheetahs in the Kuno Sanctuary has sparked a heated debate over the practice of radio-collaring animals in the wild. Radio collaring is a commonly used scientific method for tracking and studying animal behavior, but the recent incidents have raised concerns about its proper implementation and ethical considerations.

The controversy dates back to 2019 when the Gujarat Forest Department launched an ambitious project to radio collar 89 Asiatic lions in the region. Shockingly, a quarter of the radio-collared lions died within a year of being collared, drawing sharp criticism from various quarters. The department had procured 75 tracking collars and tagged 89 lions in an effort to study their movement patterns and behavior. However, it was reported that 14 lions had died after being collared.

Critics argue that many radio collaring programs lack a strong scientific foundation and may be driven by convenience rather than research-driven motives. A source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claimed that improper radio collaring practices can lead to severe behavioral changes in animals. Moreover, the collars’ weight, approximately 1.5 kg, and their uncomfortable fit around the animal’s neck can cause injury and distress.

“The animals try to pull the collars off with their mouths and often end up hurting themselves,” the source revealed. Additionally, collaring young males requires careful consideration of their neck size to avoid complications. The controversy surrounding the mass radio collaring of Asiatic lions in Gujarat has highlighted the need for clear and articulated research questions before undertaking such projects.

Renowned wildlife biologist, Chellam, emphasized the importance of having a solid scientific rationale for radio collaring animals. He criticized the Gujarat project, stating it was poorly planned without clear research objectives. Radio collaring should only be undertaken when there is a legitimate scientific reason to study a particular species’ behavior and ecology.

Furthermore, the difficulty of radio collaring leopards has been raised, as tranquilizing them in the open poses challenges. Unlike cheetahs, lions, and tigers, leopards are elusive and require specialized techniques, such as home traps, for collaring. Experts suggest that such collaring should be done on a smaller scale, with careful consideration of the animal’s welfare.

As the controversy continues to unfold, wildlife experts and conservationists call for more stringent guidelines and regulations to ensure the ethical and scientifically justified use of radio collaring on animals in the wild. Striking a balance between obtaining valuable scientific data and safeguarding animal welfare remains paramount for future radio collaring projects. Properly conducted and research-driven radio collaring initiatives can contribute significantly to wildlife conservation and management efforts without compromising the wellbeing of the studied animals.