Stabach, J. A., Cunningham, S. A., Connette, G. et al. 2020. Short-term effects of GPS collars on the activity, behavior, and adrenal response of scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah). PLoS ONE 15(2), e0221843.
GPS collars have revolutionized the field of animal ecology, providing detailed information on animal movement and the habitats necessary for species survival. GPS collars also have the potential to cause adverse effects ranging from mild irritation to severe tissue damage, reduced fitness, and death. The impact of GPS collars on the behavior, stress, or activity, however, have rarely been tested on study species prior to release. The objective of our study was to provide a comprehensive assessment of the short-term effects of GPS collars fitted on scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), an extinct-in-the-wild antelope once widely distributed across Sahelian grasslands in North Africa. We conducted behavioral observations, assessed fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM), and evaluated high-resolution data from tri-axial accelerometers. Using a series of datasets and methodologies, we illustrate clear but short-term effects to animals fitted with GPS collars from two separate manufacturers (Advanced Telemetry Systems—G2110E; Vectronic Aerospace—Vertex Plus). Behavioral observations highlighted a significant increase in the amount of headshaking from pre-treatment levels, returning below baseline levels during the post-treatment period (>3 days post-collaring). Similarly, FGM concentrations increased after GPS collars were fitted on animals but returned to pre-collaring levels within 5 days of collaring. Lastly, tri-axial accelerometers, collecting data at eight positions per second, indicated a > 480 percent increase in the amount of hourly headshaking immediately after collaring. This post-collaring increase in headshaking was estimated to decline in magnitude within 4 hours after GPS collar fitting. These effects constitute a handling and/or habituation response (model dependent), with animals showing short-term responses in activity, behavior, and stress that dissipated within several hours to several days of being fitted with GPS collars. Importantly, none of our analyses indicated any long-term effects that would have more pressing animal welfare concerns.