Radio-telemetry is a scientific method widely used in wildlife research to obtain information about habitat use patterns, spatial distribution and the way of life of wild animals. Fitting an animal with a tracking device may also be a useful management measure with regard to monitoring its strange behaviour, for example.
The wolf is sedated for tracking collaring. A tracking collar allows the remote localisation of the animal without disturbance through direct access or sight contact. In Saxony, this method is used to determine the size, location and space/time-related use of a wolf territory, for example. Furthermore, it provides findings about the dispersal behaviour of young animals as well as the periods of activity and rest of the collared animal. It also gives a better insight into the animal's foraging and feeding behaviour because killed prey can be searched for deliberately and documented in a timely manner.
Two different techniques are used in radio-telemetry: VHF and GPS-GSM. A VHF transmitter emits a continuous radio signal that can be picked up with a receiver and directional antenna from a distance of several kilometres. Apart from a VHF transmitter, modern tracking collars usually have a GPS-GSM transmitter so that the animal's location can be tracked via satellite and the data sent to a computer by SMS via a modem. This technique does without a directional antenna to locate the signal in the field. Worldwide satellite coverage allows researchers to record dispersal patterns without limitation, making this technique ideal for studying the behaviour of dispersing wolves. Telemetry provides information about the dispersal route taken, favourite whereabouts, possible barriers and, if applicable, the cause of death of wolves who leave the Saxon wolf country.
Radio/GPS collared wolves in Saxony
Between 2003 and 2013, a total of twelve wolves were fitted with a tracking collar in the Free State of Saxony. Nine of these wolves were caught within the scope of research projects.
In the winter of 2003/2004, the Neustadt wolf bitch (FT1, "Sunny") was the first wolf fitted with a VHF collar in the area around Neustadt/Spree. She got her tracking collar when her hybrid pups were caught (please refer to Genetic investigations). She supplied information about the use of her territory, her activities and way of life over a period of two years.
At the end of December 2006, a male wolf pup (MT1) was accidentally caught in a large box trap installed by a hunter. The hunter reported the incident to the LUPUS Institute which fitted the wolf with a VHF collar. Unfortunately, the transmitter only provided data for a period of just under three months before it failed. The pup had still been active in his parents' territory up until then. He has been missing since the transmitter failed.
On behalf of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) a total of six wolves were each fitted with GPS-GSM transmitters in 2009 and 2010 within the scope of the "Pilotstudie zur Abwanderung und zur Ausbreitung von Wölfen in Deutschland" (Pilot Study on the Dispersal and Distribution of Wolves in Germany) financed with funds from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. The pilot project was terminated in summer 2011.
The results from this pilot study show that wolves feel the safest in forests, heath and succession areas. They avoid human settlements, agricultural production land and fields and pass through these areas mostly only under the cover of darkness. Nevertheless, the results from the pilot study provide first-hand information about the wolves' flexibility with regard to different landscapes and their distribution potential in Germany.
In addition, the evaluation shows that wolves use their territory in the local cultural landscape unevenly. There are places within their territory which they use more intensively (e.g. for rearing their pups or hunting). They also have a few favourite places of retreat where they spend their day. They only pass through the areas between these places, which are mostly fields, agricultural production land and human settlements, without staying there for a longer time. The average size of the territory of the collared, adult wolves was 203 km2 (MCP95**). The roaming areas of young wolves may deviate in size and use significantly from those of adult, resident animals.
Please refer to the BfN website and the publication "Abwanderungs- und Raumnutzungsverhalten von Wölfen (Canis lupus) in Deutschland – Ergebnisse einer ersten Telemetriestudie" (Dispersal and Habitat Use Behaviour of Wolves (Canis lupus) in Germany – Results of an Initial Telemetry Study) by Ilka Reinhardt and Gesa Kluth in "Natur und Landschaft – Zeitschrift für Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege" (Nature and Landscape – Journal for Nature Conservation and Landscape Care) edition 6/2016, page 262 – 271 for more detailed information on the study.
At the beginning of 2012, a wolf was fitted with a tracking collar in conjunction with a management measure. The pup from the Nochten pack had been injured in a road accident on 04.12.2011 and caught thereafter. The young wolf was treated for his tibiofibular fracture and then taken to the quarantine ward of Naturschutz-Tierpark Görlitz e.V. Five weeks later, he was released back to his parents' territory. He was given the name MT5 ("Timo"). MT5 is an offspring from the last litter of the wolf bitch named "Einauge" (One Eye) who died in March 2013. In autumn 2012, aged 1.5 years, he started to detach himself increasingly from his parents' territory and founded his own family with a young wolf bitch from the Dauban pack in the southern part of the former territory of the Dauban pack in 2013. The new wolf family around MT5 was given the name "Kollm pack". At the beginning of January 2014, MT5 lost his tracking collar after two years of transmission as scheduled. The collar was retrieved. During the two years the wolf wore it, the transmitter had often sent only part of the data with interruptions. Thanks to the fact that the collar was retrieved, all the data stored in its memory could be read out and evaluated retroactively. Between January 2013 and the beginning of January 2014, MT5 used territories of 149 km² (MCP100*) and 94 km² (MCP95**) respectively. No further evidence of the Kollm pack could be found during 2014. The pack had disappeared. The reason why they gave up the territory and the whereabouts of MT5 are unknown. The area was reoccupied by the Dauban and Niesky packs and included in their territories.
Furthermore, three wolves were fitted with tracking collars in 2012 and 2013 within the scope of the "Wanderwolf" (dispersing wolf) project. The "Wanderwolf" project was conducted on the basis of a cooperation agreement between the Saxon State Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture (SMUL) and the "Wanderwolf" (dispersing wolf) project workgroup comprising Gesellschaft zum Schutz der Wölfe e.V. (GzSdW) (Association for the Protection of Wolves), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. (NABU) (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Association) and World Wide Fund For Nature Germany (WWF). The cooperation partners participated in the project to an equal extent. In 2012, the LUPUS Institut für Wolfsmonitoring und -forschung in Deutschland (German Institute for Wolf Monitoring and Research) was commissioned by the cooperation partners to fit the three wolves with the respective tracking collars and to record and evaluate the incoming data within the scope of the monitoring programme.
The wolves fitted with tracking collars were two adult wolf bitches each of which already had a territory (FT8 "Greta" wolf bitch of the Niesky pack and FT9 "Frieda" wolf bitch of the Dauban pack), as well as a young wolf bitch from the Milkel pack (FT7 "Marie") who dispersed in the course of the project and founded her own territory (Rosenthal). All the transmitters have since failed and the "Wanderwolf" project has been terminated. The project's results are to be published soon.
* MCP100 = the area resulting from connecting the outermost locations (to form a perimeter).
** MCP95 = the area resulting from connecting the outermost locations exclusive of the 5 percent deviating the most from the other locations.