The study of animal behavior can be quite a tricky job. Biologists say the human interference in the animals’ lifestyle or their presence in the animals’ habitat can make them nervous and alter their original behavior.
In such a condition, use of robotic rovers can be an effective option. The scientists had earlier used such rovers in the Serengeti Lion project of the National Geographic.
An international team of researchers at France’s University of Strasbourg led by Yvon Le Maho carried a study using a remote-controlled rover to understand the behavior of penguins.
The researchers disguised a rover as the king penguin chick so that they can closely monitor the behavior of these birds without actually disturbing them.
In a bid to determine how useful are these remote-controlled rovers in studying the penguin behaviour, the researchers fitted external heart rate monitors in 34 king penguins, which are very skittish animals, in Antarctica’s Adelie Land.
These external monitors could help in closely recording heart rate of the penguins using an RFID antenna, which requires getting within 60 centimetres to record a reading.
After the penguins had recovered, the researchers sent a four-wheeled remote-controlled rover into incubating penguins colony. In the colony, the males were mostly stationary as they required to keep the eggs safe on top of their feet. Even though the birds responded to some sort of alarms, pecking and squawking of the rover, they allowed it to come close enough to them for recording their heart monitors. When the rover stopped moving, their heart rates recovered at faster pace in comparison to the interruption by the humans in the colony.
The full study was published online under the title “Rovers minimize human disturbance in research on wild animals” in the journal Nature Methods.