Electronic Collars Help Monitor Reindeer Population Skip to content

Electronic Collars Help Monitor Reindeer Population

By Larissa Kyzer

A reindeer in East Iceland
Photo: Photo: Náttúrustofa Austurlands, via Facebook.

The East Iceland Nature Research Centre recently put transmitter collars on 20 reindeer in East Iceland, RÚV reports. The catch-and-release operation is part of the Centre’s ongoing efforts to monitor the region’s reindeer population. The collars are fastened around the animals’ necks and then worn for several months.

Although safe for the animals, the collaring process presents a challenge for researchers as reindeer can run at speeds of up to 80km/h (50m/h). As such, researchers use snowmobiles to ride up alongside the reindeer and then net them with hand-held net launchers. The animals are held down to prevent injury while the collar is fastened around their necks and are then released back to their herd. The Centre has tagged a number of reindeer this season – about 20 animals in almost all sections of the reindeer grounds.

Screenshot via RÚV.

The Centre has used these electronic collars for nearly a decade. Prior to their introduction, researchers had to conduct visual population counts several times a year, says the Centre’s Skarphéðinn G. Þórisson, either by flying over or driving through the reindeer’s grazing areas. “But now, with these devices,” he remarks, “we get information about the animals every day.” With the collars’ data now available 24 hours a day, it is much easier for researchers to closely monitor the reindeer population’s distribution and condition, their foraging habits, and more. And the technology is becoming cheaper all the time, too, says Skarphéðin. “So you might say that this is a real revolution in wildlife monitoring.”

Screenshot via RÚV.

The data collected by the collars is now being made available on the Centre’s new ‘Reindeer Web’ (in Icelandic), which allows visitors to view the collared animals’ seasonal migration patterns and grazing habits as far back as 2010. It’s hoped that eventually, the website will become a useful tool for warning locals when reindeer are on roads.

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