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Wildlife Wearables: How Biologists Are Using Tech to Track Animals

From the Apple Watch to Intel’s new designer MICA bracelet, wearing a device that tracks your activities is all the rage among bipeds. But, as it turns out, we’ve got nothing on our four-legged and feathered companions. Animals blazed the wearables trail long before humans started sporting Jawbones on their wrists.

Today’s sophisticated wildlife wearables do far more than measure how fast a cougar ran or how far a snake slithered — they could mean the difference between extinction and survival for many species.

And while we’ve been tracking animals since 1803 — when American bird obsessive John James Audubon tied a string around an Eastern Phoebe and let it go — advancements in technology now allow humans to track animals in much more sophisticated ways.

Unlike older tracking technology, which required bulky radio transmitters that had to be physically removed before the data could be extracted, these devices are able to work with cell towers or satellites to deliver information to a scientist’s computer in real time. In some cases, they might even be connected to drones or phones that alert preservationists when an animal has unwittingly roamed into dangerous territory. Not to mention, their smaller sizes are much easier to implant.

“With a growing human population, wild places are becoming more and more scarce,” Dennis Jorgensen, a wildlife biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, told Yahoo Tech. “Biologists want to get a sense of what type of habitat and how much of that habitat any given animal needs, and then how much tolerance they have for human activity.”

Commercially, a wireless device is in development to monitor the location, temperature, and general activity of cattle, allowing farmers to protect herds from thieves and attend to their livestock better.

And recreationally, of course, a slew of new fitness trackers allow for obsessive pet owners to track the general physical fitness of their dogs.

Here’s a brief survey of the ways animals are tracked in the wild, on the field, and at home.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.