Monday, May 18, 2015

Getting ready for science on big predators

We arrived in Mpala on Sunday afternoon and immediately began unpacking gear.  Our goal on this project is to deploy our new wildlife collars on male African lions.  Here I am holding a lioness collar in my right hand and a male lion collar in my left.  The first thing to notice is the SIZE of these collars!  Think about how big the neck of your pet cat is and the size of its tiny collar.  Now look at the collars in my hands!  That is the NECK SIZE of a female and male African lion- now you know why they can eat massive chunks of meat from a zebra or wildebeest.  These are really big carnivores!

The top portion of the collar has a GPS unit and a VHF transmitter so that we can track where the lions go.  It also contains a 3-D accelerometer unit that we have calibrated to tell us their behavior (i.e. resting, walking, running, pouncing and killing or eating) and how many calories they expend to do these activities.  Think of the collars as a Fitbit or iwatch for wild lions.  The bottom portion of the collar has batteries and a release device so we can retrieve the collars when the study is completed next year.  My colleagues (Drs. Chis Wilmers and Gabriel Elkaim) and I developed these highly specialized collars at the University of California Santa Cruz.  This is the first time that they are being used on African lions.  Very exciting!

Now you all should be asking yourselves the same thing- just how do you put a collar on a wild Africa lion?   

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