Using VHF Tracking Transmitters During The Roan Antelope Calving Season

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Dave Houghton from New Wycombe Game Farm in South Africa reports on the trials and tribulations of this year’s Roan antelope calving season…

” Looking for a needle in a haystack is something we do on a daily basis during the Roan Antelope calving season. This coincides with the rainy season which in turn brings the long grass and the reason for finding the “needles” in the first place, the Ticks. The Brown Ear Tick is responsible for transmitting Theileria, a deadly parasite which is normally fatal in Antelope and cattle alike, which means we have to find and dip the calves at a day old to help them through the first few weeks of life.A Roan antelope calf

The Roan originate from areas that have a lower tick load than the Limpopo region in South Africa which is where our farm is situated and as a result seem to be more susceptible to tick borne diseases. Before we started monitoring the calves the herds were left to their own devises and by the end of the season only 30% of the calves born were still alive.

Once born the Mother stashes her calf in the grass for up to five weeks before introducing it to the herd so we have to intervene just after birth to increase the likelihood of survival. We know the birth is about to happen due to a change in the Mothers behaviour, she is observed and the position of the birth is marked. The calf is given 24 hours to bond with the Mother and then caught and given an ear tag for identification and the all-important anti parasite dip. At one day old it is too young to dart and if left any longer will be impossible to catch by hand.

Now comes the hard work. The calf must be seen twice daily to pick up any early signs of Theileria (if caught early enough it can be cured). As you can imagine finding a calf that has been hidden in the grass by its Mother is not an easy task, finding it twice in one day is almost impossible and finding 29 of them (this year’s calf yield if all goes well) twice in one day is not realistic.Roan antelope calf being treated

So on a recent trip to the UK to visit family and friends and armed with a couple of circuit diagrams of radio collars I caught up with an old friend who used to be an electrical engineer. After giving him my specs, a radio transmitter small enough to go in a new born calves ear, at least 500 metres range, be able to switch on and off and please could I have it in two weeks, he set about some research.

Radio Transmitters For Game Birds…And Antelopes!

His initial feedback was not good news, too expensive, not easy to put together at the size I was asking for and of course the time factor. He then phoned me to say he had found a company that was already making small VHF tracking transmitters for game birds and thought they could help.

A few phone calls later and Dr Dave Butler of Perdix Wildlife Supplies was busy putting together the first prototype ear tag transmitter.

Delivery of the tag came just in time as the first Roan calf was born the next day. Finding the calf was now very easy despite the long grass and the fact that the Mother moves it pretty much every day. We now have ten tags in operation and have already removed the one from the first calf as it is now with the herd and viewable daily. This frees up the tag for another calf and as the calves join the herd so the tags are removed and switched off until needed again.

We are continuing to work closely with Perdix to further develop the tags for our application but they are already proving an invaluable management tool. The VHF transmitters Perdix have provided have given us the chance to check the calves regularly for early signs of sickness and drastically reduced the man hours involved.Two Roan Calves

I would like to thank Dr Dave Butler and all his team at Perdix for listening to my request and turning it into a reality at such short notice. Their continued efforts to improve the product shows how dedicated they are to providing wildlife solutions to any problems that should arise.”

Dave Houghton
New Wycombe Game Farm
South Africa