Effective and safe monitoring techniques are needed by U.S. land managers to understand free-roaming horse behavior and habitat use and to aid in making informed management decisions. Global positioning system (GPS) and very high frequency (VHF) radio collars can be used to provide high spatial and temporal resolution information for detecting free-roaming horse movement. GPS and VHF collars are a common tool used in wildlife management, but have rarely been used for free-roaming horse research and monitoring in the United States. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the design, safety, and detachment device on GPS/VHF collars used to collect free-roaming horse location and movement data. Between 2009 and 2010, 28 domestic and feral horses were marked with commercial and custom designed VHF/GPS collars. Individual horses were evaluated for damage caused by the collar placement, and following initial observations, collar design was modified to reduce the potential for injury. After collar modifications, which included the addition of collar length adjustments to both sides of the collar allowing for better alignment of collar and neck shapes, adding foam padding to the custom collars to replicate the commercial collar foam padding, and repositioning the detachment device to reduce wear along the jowl, we observed little to no evidence of collar wear on horses. Neither custom-built nor commercial collars caused injury to study horses, however, most of the custom-built collars failed to collect data. During the evaluation of collar detachment devices, we had an 89% success rate of collar devices detaching correctly. This study showed that free-roaming horses can be safely marked with GPS and/or VHF collars with minimal risk of injury, and that these collars can be a useful tool for monitoring horses without creating a risk to horse health and wellness.
PUBLICATION AVAILABLE AT: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103189