The use of harnesses for the attachment of logging or tracking devices has greatly radicalised the fields of wild animal biology and revealed the lifecycle of specific species of animals. Harnesses are particularly useful for long distance moving species like birds in order to gain an accurate picture of their feeding habits, nesting grounds, and migratory routes. Birds are a problematic member of the animal kingdom to equip with tracking devices due to the moult of the plumage which allows only for short–term deployment of devices attached to the feathers. Indeed methods for short term attachment of devices to birds exist which involve taping the device to the feathers.
For long-term deployment, harnesses have been used but this method is controversial. This is because harnesses are usually made out of relatively stiff and non-extensible material such as Teflon® or leather. These harnesses are likely to cause irritations or even injuries by rubbing against the bird's body.
Scientists at Swansea University have used another approach and developed a harness that is fabricated from a hypoallergenic, soft and elastic material used by the medical industry called Silastic®. The bird harness is formed of two loops which are joined together. A tracking or logging device can be attached to the harness and the whole unit then be placed onto the bird close to its centre of gravity. The two-loop harness includes a neck loop and a body loop-the neck loop can be positioned over shoulders of the bird keeping the wings free so as to avoid disrupting the movement of the wearer (like a silicone backpack). The soft, hypoallergenic harness material is flexible and sits inside the plumage on the birds skin and contours closely to the body without restricting the eventual wearer's movement.
The SLIC™ harness opens up the possibility of attachment systems that can stay in place for months on birds with minimal impact. This tool could be tailored to other species and ultimately improve the way humans manage and protect animal populations.
A UK patent for this invention has been filed under GB1121312.1 by Swansea University