Should Radio-Collared Animals Be Legally Protected?

Candice Gaukel Andrews by Candice Gaukel Andrews | January 21st, 2013 | 14 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living

Single wolf

Despite your stance on the ethics of radio-collaring wild animals, it can’t be denied that such endeavors provide scientists with reams of valuable data, such as information on where and how animals move and migrate, the nuisance activity they engage in, their reproduction and mortality rates, and how to establish wise management practices regarding them.

That’s why when a collared research animal is lost, it’s not just a detriment to that animal’s social group or species but to our understanding of nature, as well.

Usually, the death of a collared animal goes unnoticed, except within a few scientific circles. But when Wolf No. 754, a popular Yellowstone National Park research animal, was recently shot by a hunter in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, a few miles outside the national park boundary, reverberations and outrage were felt around the world.

It’s causing some to ask: Should research animals be given full, legal protection?

Predation — even by human animals — is natural …

Elk with collar

It’s not illegal to shoot a collared animal — such as this elk — in most states. ©John T. Andrews

These days, with so much research being conducted on wild animals, there’s a good possibility that a hunter will run into a wolf, bear, deer or elk that is wearing a radio collar. That then becomes the dilemma that almost every hunter will eventually have to face: While it’s not illegal to shoot a collared animal in most states, is it acceptable? Should a hunter take an animal out of a research program by shooting it and thus stop the flow of information that the animal provides?

There is a good argument for considering a human hunter just another part of nature and a participant in the eternal food chain. As a human animal, if you eat meat — whether it comes wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store or dragged directly out of the woods — you are a hunter. So when a hunter legally harvests an animal just as any other large predator might, it should be a normal part of the research statistics, whether that animal had a collar on it or not. After all, collared animals are not looked at any differently by their other predators.

And in Montana, generally, any one of Yellowstone National Park’s wolves that crosses the park’s boundary during hunting and trapping season is legally considered fair game.

… But targeting collared animals is not

But while killing collared animals is legal, choosing to shoot one not only means lost data for scientists but wastes the money that is available for research. A collar with GPS technology costs $4,000. But it’s not just the cost of a potentially lost collar that is at stake. There’s the cost of getting the collar on the animal, which includes biologists’ time, plus a helicopter and crew. And without the data that collared animals provide, there would be no way to set reasonable hunting quotas, which makes hunting seasons possible in the first place.

Radio-collaring equipment

Scientists collect reams of valuable data from radio-collared animals. ©John T. Andrews

What some find most disturbing surrounding the story of Wolf No. 754, however, is that of the nine or ten wolves killed by hunters in 2012 that spent some or most of their time inside Yellowstone National Park, seven wore collars — compared with fewer than three in ten wolves that wear collars in the general park population. Also, of eleven wolves in the newly formed Junction Butte pack, only the collared wolf was shot. While collared wolves roam throughout the Rockies, it’s almost as if around Yellowstone, collared wolves are being targeted.

It’s estimated that a half-million people were familiar with Wolf No. 754. Most of this radio-collared animal’s life played out in front of binoculars and spotting scopes inside a park visited by more than three million people annually. The New York Times reported that Doug McLaughlin, a 65-year-old lodge manager in Silver Gate, Montana, watched this wolf mature from a clumsy yearling into a “regal sentinel with a sonorous howl who scoured the valley floor to rescue lost pups.” Many felt losing 754 was like hearing about the death of a friend.

Two Yellowstone wolves

Fewer than three in ten wolves are equipped with radio collars in Yellowstone National Park. ©Henry H. Holdsworth

Although some would like to make shooting collared animals illegal in all states, others prefer the model used in Minnesota. While it is legal to shoot collared black bears in Minnesota, hunters are specifically asked not to do so.

Do you think that collared wildlife should be fair game, or should culling them be illegal in all states? Or, is a middle ground possible, where buffer zones — with strict limits on hunting and trapping — are created around the parks and reserves where collared animals roam?

Happy trails,


Feature photo: It seems that with any issue that has a wolf at the center of it, emotions run high. ©Henry H. Holdsworth


  1. Yes, radio collared wolves should not be allowed to be killed. I am assuming that such wolves are not in areas where livestock and/or humans abide.

    Leslie Segall | January 22nd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  2. This would be a good idea. Animals that are collared provide much need scientific data and as such should be protected. It is some of these wolves that allow us to understand more about these majestic animals and the way that they live.

    Phillip Tureck – FRGS | January 22nd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  3. I would seriously consider protecting collared animals. I would consider regulating researchers on their collaring procedures i.e. length of time etc. The collaring is done in some cases to learn about the “peoples” resources. As long as we can get data after carefully deciding on a collar study, we should protect the peoples investment in that animal. Another thought is ethically, it would be fair to let that animal live after all its given to us on some aspect of thought.

    William J. Kolodnicki | January 22nd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  4. I think it’s very reasonable to make shooting collared animals illegal or fine-worthy. Not only could they be a target, but these animals also have the extra stress of being research subjects…undergoing tests and surveillance and being handled by humans. This can certainly put them at a disadvantage.

    Jacqui | January 22nd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  5. Absolutely. It should be illegal. It seems like a gamble to collar an unprotected animal, anywho.

    Travis | January 24th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  6. Collared animals should not be targeted specifically, but should have an equal chance of being hunted. If we are collecting data on the survival of carnivores then human induced mortlity is a very real factor that affects survival of many carnviore species. As a carnviore biologist, I know the frustrations linked to getting your study animals killed, but if we want to collect accurate data, then we can’t protect collared animals. However, if the hunters are specifically targeting the collared animals then the cause of this needs to be determined and mitigated.

    KellyM | January 28th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  7. @Jacqui: collared ansimals are not at any disadvantage. Collaring does not effect survival, hunting or breeding and they do not constantly have biologists following them around. This would be counter productive to any study as you are trying to monitor the aniamls doing what they would do naturally – not trying to dodge a biologist.

    KellyM | January 28th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  8. Yes !!! I think reseach animals should be protected.

    John H. Gaukel | January 29th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  9. I think the question depends on the goal of the research. In many cases the purpose for radio-tagging wildlife is to determine rates and causes of mortality. To protect animals from legal harvest because they wear a collar would bias survival high (i.e., would mislead researchers to believe a smaller proportion of the population is harvested and, therefore, bag limits could be liberalized). In some cases, however, the research may be designed to answer a question that would be best suited if the critter were not harvested. In which case, communication with the public may be the best recourse. This is not a one-size-fits-all question.

    Eric | January 30th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  10. What is happening is real and what happened to 754 is the real world.

    Joseph | January 31st, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  11. A collared wolf was shot in Picos de Europa National Park in Spain this past August, wasting more than 150,000$ of public money. This was very controversial and since then a web platform has been created to ensure and lobbying for the conservation of wolves. This has been very widely known in Spanish society not only by ecologists and conservationists.
    It is very sad this kind of things still happens in such developed countries.
    Sorry the links are only in Spanish:
    The news in press:
    The web:
    (Marley was the name of the shot wolf, dedicated to Bob Marley)

    Iñaki | February 9th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  12. Yes!! Definitely!!
    I think research animals should be protected, they definitely play a major role in life.

    cherry style | February 9th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  13. Yes Radio Collared animals should be protected. I find it rather odd that this needs any debate at all!

    Joanna Tomacari | May 3rd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  14. A lot of time, effort and money went into collaring these animals for research. Destroying them does seem to be very counter productive.

    Dee Franklin | May 3rd, 2013 | Comment Permalink

Post a Comment

If you want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!