TRACKING WILDLIFE FROM SPACE
News Source: Catalyst Queensland, The State of Queensland (Department of the Premier and Cabinet), page 6, Issue 12, December, 2004
Queensland’s “Crocs in Space” satellite monitoring project has aroused world-wide interest from conservationists and crocodile experts.
Dr Mark Read of the State’s parks and wildlife service says it’s the first time in the world that satellites have been used to track the giant saltwater reptiles. But it’s not just crocodilian experts who’ve shown interest in the project – there have been inquiries about using the technology from scientists studying other species, including elephants.
“Crocs in Space” is a joint venture between Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, the University of Queensland and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, a collaboration that Dr Read described as a great combination.
He said the collaboration joined experts from organisations with different cultures, which meant that a wider range of perspectives were brought to the research than would be the case if only one party conducted the research.
The project has proven that satellite transmitters can be used to track crocodiles and the information gained has changed fundamental views about crocodile behaviour.
It is invaluable for determining crocodile management policies, especially in areas where humans and the ancient predators cohabit.
The estuarine crocodile is considered a vulnerable species. This new research will help the challenge of balancing conservation and management of a potentially dangerous animal.
The data is vital to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service’s crocodile management program and will help it manage the potential interactions between people and crocodile in populated areas.
The project has exploded the traditional belief that one large male controlled one section of a river, excluding all other males from that territory. Research showed that they tolerate each other’s presence in the same stretch of water.
The second stage of the study is now underway. Nine crocodiles have been fitted with transmitters on Cape York, and Dr Read said “staggering information” is being sent back.
The crocodiles can travel great distances if they need to - one 3.1 metre animal in this second stage study travelled more than 100 kilometres in 20 days.
“They’re habitat-specific,” he said. “We’ve found that when you move a crocodile from its home territory to a different region, they spend some time reorienting themselves before returning to their original home.
“This research will help us manage crocodile behavior well into the future.”