Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Collaring JenB and Coco

Visit SCT Gallery to view the whole process of collaring

We have been planning to collar JenB and Coco brothers for the past half year so we can collect valuable hunting data in the 100 ha hunting camp where it has proven difficult to monitor the tigers during the last year, due to its huge size and difficult terrain.

This morning our vet Joseph arrived at 7am punctually. We have had various dramas collaring our tigers in the past, such as JenB climbing over the electrified fence and Princess running through it, and we hid our anxiety by joking about possible surprises we may encounter today.

JenB and Coco have been separated from Brother Hulooo in preparation of this operation. When we arrived at their camp the two brothers were having an argument, roaring and jumping up and down, but was interrupted by our arrival. That didn't last long as more conflict occurred between JenB and King Henry, who was on the other side of the fence.

We wondered how to get them close to us and into a position which was easier to shoot the dart that carried the sedatives. Just when my new colleague Thinus came back with a leg of meat as enticement, Coco lied down a few meters away from the fence. It would be good to shoot the dart in their butt, but the big cats must have felt something important was happening so they faced us, observing our movement.

Not wanting to loose this opportunity, Joseph fired the dart gun and the dart went into Coco's neck as intended. Coco dashed off in shock. We waited for the drug to take effect. Being a cautious vet, as I mentioned in my previous diaries about the different operations with Laohu Valley's South China Tigers, he'd rather applying less drugs initially and top it up, than overdosing the tigers potentially causing death, especially since we could only guess the weight of the tigers.

After a few minutes the drugs took effect and Coco's pace slowed down. To my anticipated fear, he chose to lie down in the ditch close to the fence which made our operation very difficult. It turned out we were grossly wrong in our estimates of their body weights. When Joseph went forward to test if Coco was asleep, Coco suddenly got up and ran off, repeating the scenes we had before with King Henry in this very same camp two years ago. It took another two top-up of drugs to finally get him properly asleep.

JenB went through the same drama but Joseph did succeed in getting him to sleep too. A nerve wrecking operation started in checking their health conditions, taking blood samples, collaring, and measuring their body sizes.
I was pleased and proud to see how good a condition they are both in, finding only just a few ticks on their body (parasites such as ticks are an indication of the animal's health). But we grossly underestimated their weight. The 150kg scale was simply not enough to get the precise weight but we believed they were at least 200kgs each, not 150kg as we had estimated.

Antidote was applied to revert the effect of the sedatives. After about 10 minutes, their ears moved and tails twitched. Another 10mins, Coco first lifted up his head, then his front body. But feeling drowsy, he froze in each position for a few moments before making another move, and then lied down again. Only after Joseph made a thump on the ground with his testing stick, did Coco suddenly jump up and ran off into the ditch to hide.

JenB woke up soon after at about 10.20am,and also went into the little bushy area. It was important to observe their recovery so my team was on watch continuously till after the sun set. Just like when Cathay and Hope were collared, these two also finding the newly acquired accessory was a nuisance, trying to fight the collar off. In the end, the collars won and stayed on their neck.

Seeing both walking about by sun set, we were all very relieved that another operation completed successfully.

May 17th, 2011
Laohu Valley Reserve

PS: A couple of days later a blesbok was also collared and the two brothers were let into the 100 ha camp.

The first collared blesbok was hunted by JenB after a few days. Here is a photo of the left over. The second blesbok was killed three days after collaring.

Both tigers’s movements can be followed through GPS data. http://english.savechinastigers.org/node/626

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