Rare Hirola Antelope Monitored with GPS Tracking Technology

19 Mar 2013

Study uses GPS tracking technology to monitor and protect the hirola antelope.

The Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project is constantly making new development to save endangered species; this includes the hirola antelope, which is currently listed as “critically endangered” on the animal conservation status list. The main method the conservationists and researchers are using to preserve the rare animal is global positioning systems (GPS). They hope that by using GPS to track their movements, researchers will be able to use the data to protect the antelope.

The hirola antelope is the most endangered and rare antelope in the world. It is the only survivor from what was once a very diverse group of antelopes. It is so endangered, in fact, that it is sometimes referred to as a “living fossil”.

The hirola antelope is more prominent in East Africa and has been declining steadily over the past 30 years. There are just 600 hirola antelopes today, even though there were 14,000 in the 1970s. The main risks to the hirola antelope’s lives are poaching, drought and loss of habitat.

Cath Lawson is the coordinator of the EDGE conversation program and aid of the hirola antelope: “Over the past 30 years numbers have plummeted by almost 90% and they continue to decline.”

This rarity and danger of extinction makes it no surprise that researchers want to preserve the precious hirola antelope. The study placed GPS tracking collars on one antelope from each of the seven herds that exist in Somalia and Kenya. It wasn’t easy to get to the antelope, however, as hirolas are rare and very elusive. Researchers had to search for them before finally attaching collars to at least seven antelope.

The collars will monitor the antelope’s movements and drop off in 12 months on their own. By this point, researchers hope to have gotten enough information that they will be able to use it to come up with a way to protect the animals. The main focus is to avoid outright extinction, as they are very close. They also hope to use the data for protecting other species of similar rarity.

Aside from monitoring the movements, researchers and scientists at EDGE are going to track the behavior and location of the hirola antelopes. This should help determine ways of protecting their species, such as seeing where the droughts are, finding out their population habits, and possibly even where poachers exist most prevalently. So far, EDGE has already determined that the main habitats of the hirola antelope puts them at risk due to severe drought.

GPS tracking technology is being used for many other endangered species, many studies of which are managed by EDGE. The project will continue to focus on the rarest and most at-danger animals to help protect them.

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