Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, the Czech University of Life Science, the Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid's Animal Health Research Center, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, the Agricultural Center Baden-Württemberg, and the University of Konstanz have developed a wearable designed to detect disease in wild boar — by monitoring their movements with an accelerometer.
"This is a game-changer for wildlife disease monitoring," claims first author Kevin Morelle, a scientist with the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, of his team's wearable, designed for attachment to the ear of wild boar. "We show that a lightweight behavioral sensor deployed on a wild animal can be a sentinel for potential health threats."
The wearable itself, developed at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, uses an integrated accelerometer to record acceleration across three axes in 10 second bursts every four minutes at a 16Hz sampling frequency — reduced to four-second bursts every four minutes at 1Hz for testing in-the-wild, to extend battery life. The raw data are processed into overall dynamic body acceleration (ODBA) measurements, which then served as a proxy for animal energy expenditure through movement.
It's this ODBA reading which allowed the team to monitor the activity levels of each tagged boar — discovering that boars suffering from African Swine Fever (ASF) were up to 20 percent less active than their healthy counterparts, as measured in ODBA readings, and could thus be diagnosed through the wearable's measurements.
"We still need to test the tool in real case situations to figure out if behavioral analysis can detect disease in wild animals that are living in different population sizes," Morelle notes. "We hope these first results pave the way for a behavioral system that provides vital insights into the spread of disease in wild animals, and facilitates timely control measures to save wildlife and domestic animals."
The team's work has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B under open-access terms.