Maties researcher uses athletes' belt to track wildebeest stress levels

2015-12-23 10:36

Johannesburg - A researcher from Stellenbosch University has used biotelemetry belts, normally used to test athletes, to determine how stressed wildebeest get when placed in a boma, prior to being moved.

As part of her research, Dr Liesel Laubscher compared the effect of two long tranquilisers which are used to keep the wild animals calm when they are moved and transported over long distances. 

She wanted to test the effects of the drugs, one which has been used in the "game translocation industry" for a number of years, and another that is still under development, on blue wildebeest. 

The university said that to test the effects, she first had to gather data about the animals’ stress levels when they roam freely or when they are kept in a boma.

However, data on the breathing rate, heart rate and movement of the animals were not available when her study began.

"Dr Laubscher innovatively decided to use biotelemetry belts, similar to those that athletes use to monitor their body functions. Similar ones are used in the horse racing industry,"  it said. 

To get the right one that worked best on blue wildebeest, Dr Laubscher first had to fit and test several models. 

Laubscher said: "It was important to find one that fitted comfortably, could record data accurately and thanks to Bluetooth technology could send the information to a phone or laptop."

Two infrared closed circuit TV cameras also recorded the animals’ behaviour inside a boma before and after the sedatives were administered. 

The university said that, in this way, Laubscher could for the first time ascertain exactly what these animals do in captivity. 

"She found that the animals that received either of the two tranquilisers breathed more slowly and did not easily flee from people who entered the boma," the university said. 

"The drugs do not affect the animals’ heart rate. They calm the animals and make them less vigilant. Animals treated with one of the neuroleptics [tranquilisers] were less curious and restless, and spent longer times feeding." 

She also established how their heart and breathing rates differ when they, for example, graze, lie down or shake their heads in frustration.

Laubscher's research has now made such baseline data available to the wildlife industry and other researchers. 

Read more on:    stellenbosch university  |  stellenbosch  |  conservation  |  animals

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