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Are conservationists studying some wildlife to death?

Writer Cat Urbigkit ponders the question in an interesting post on the Querencia blog about impacts of radio collars on bison and other animals. She includes pictures of collars rubbing animals’ necks raw, and wonders: Is all this really necessary?

Noting the intrusive nature of collars, Urbigkit writes:

“I long for the days of old when a naturalist/ecologist/biologist simply followed along at a discrete distance and observed an animal’s natural behaviors, taking notes and writing detailed journal entries about what was observed.”
Radio tracking has become an integral part of wildlife conservation, but what are the costs?

Certainly no one will argue that the data collected by radio telemetry can offer important information on habitat needs of elusive animals, like wolverines and grizzly bears. Similarly, radio collars can help wildlife managers determine elk calf mortality or migration routes of native trout.

Bird banding has helped us understand migration routes, and by extension, has helped shape our avian conservation strategies.

Still, are there instances when one more study is unnecessary?

Two years ago, I traveled along a remote river in Brazil’s Pantanal with a local guide. In the course of a few days, we saw five jaguars, an extraordinary sight almost anywhere but not particularly unusual on this river.

One of the jaguars we saw (pictured above) fell asleep as we watched and photographed a short distance away — a sign of a jaguar population that is not much bothered by humans, including poachers.

My guide worried that such a place would not remain undiscovered for long. But he didn’t really fear poachers. He worried that discovery would bring a steady stream of biologists and conservation planners, intent on gathering data and undertaking expensive studies.

What could that data tell anyone, really? That there were a lot of jaguars in the area? Couldn’t that be figured out just by visiting, or by asking local people?

What would be gained by trapping, drugging and handling the jaguars, and then attaching collars to them?

It’s important to make conservation decisions based on science. However, gathering sufficient data shouldn’t delay conservation in areas obviously important to wildlife. Nor should science be used as an excuse to harass already imperiled wild animals unless absolutely necessary.

-- Text by Matt Miller, Cool Green Science Blog

For more: Watch the Captain Planet episode, 'The Guinea Pigs.'