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GPS collars on mouflon: utilization of space among European wild sheep in the Thueringen (1996-2001)  

by Environmental Studies

Methods and Goals
The European wild sheep is the only wild sheep species occurring in the Federal Republic of Germany.  It was introduced in 1902 into various regions, for example the Lueneburger Heide and the Harz. The present population is estimated to number ca. 20000 animals, of which 13000 occur in the new federal states.  Just like red deer European wild sheep is only managed for hunting in designated areas. 

For the Thueringer Ministry for Agriculture, Nature Protection, and Environment the question of the spatial needs of this species is important in designating suitable areas for its management.  

Goal of this research project was to thoroughly determine for the first time in the Federal Republic of Germany the use of space among European wild sheep using  GPS. The investigation area lies within the game management domain of the State Forest District Leutenberg, at the eastern boundary of the Thueringer Forest (Fig. 1). This is an area of steep slopes within a low mountain range with a predominately spruce forest cover.

Fig. 1:  Location of the investigation area in Germany

For the purpose of this study the European wild sheep were caught in two corrals constructed for this during the winter months of 1996 to 2000 and provided with GPS collars from VECTRONIC Aerospace (Fig. 2). 

The GPS collars determined the locations of the animals to an average precision of 81 m. Since May, 2000, the precision of the system used has been increased to an average of 15 m.  The instruments were programmed in such a way that they could localize the animals and store the position data overa period of one to two years.  If during the localization determination  signals from 4 satellites could not be received within 5 minutes, no position determination was possible.  A total of 8 female and 2 male European wild sheep were telemetrized.   The GPS collars were collected by shooting the animals, and the data were evaluated and graphically documented by computer. 


Fig. 2:  European wild sheep ram with GPS collar. Photo H. Piegert


In the meantime the GPS collars could be obtained from the 8 female animals studied, and a total of 6087 localizations were made.  The functioning period of the instruments varied between 235 and 646 days.

In Fig. 3 the locations of 5 female European wild sheep are depicted.  The animals differed in their use of space according to which herd they belonged to.  The European wild sheep Nrs. 66 and 67 (brown and green symbols in Fig. 3) were caught in the northern corral, all others in the southern one. Animals Nr. 34 and 35 (yellow and blue symbols in Fig. 3) as well as three other animals belonging to the same herd (not depicted due to lack of space) remained the entire year in the area between the towns of Leutenberg, Herschdorf, and Landsendorf whereby they often crossed roads.  One of their main home bases was located only 200m distant from the much travelled federal road  B90 south of Leutenberg. 

Much larger was the territory of animal Nr. 51 (red symbol in Fig. 3) which belonged to another herd.  This animal used practically the same territory as animals Nrs. 34 and 35 plus wandering regularly through a steep valley up a mountain located further to the southeast, where the other sheep were only seldom localized.

Fig. 3:  Localization points of 5 female European wild sheep, Thueringer Forest 1998.
TK50 © TLVermA 1999  

Animals Nrs. 66 and 67 had an even greater demand for space, and in contrast to all other animals clearly used parts of their territory only seasonally.  Fig. 4, for example, shows the localization points for animal Nr. 67 from the year 1999 in chronological order.  In April, May, and June this animal stayed almost excluseively in the northwestern part of its range, while in January all of its localization points were situated directly east of Leutenberg.  During the breeding season (1.4 - 27.4) this animal stayed within a very small area (yellow symbol).  This restrictive use of range during the breeding season was also observed among other female wild sheep.  

The sizes of the ranges used by the investigated wild sheep varied  between 168 ha. And 597 ha with an average size of 349 ha (calculated by the convex-polygon method). 

The results of the investigation can be summarized as follows:  Each of the  8 telemetrized female wild sheep ranged throughout one territory the entire year. Migrations to other areas did not occur.  The animals remained in their home territories using this range in the following years.  The size of these ranges as well as where they were internally used depended on which herd the animals belonged to.

Fig. 4:  Localization points of female European wild sheep Nr. 67 connected in chronological order TK50 © TLVermA 1999  

The basic geographical data (contour lines) were used with the permission of the Thueringer Land Registry and Survey Administration (www.Thueringen.de/Vermessung).

We extend our thanks to the employees of the Forest District Leutenberg without whose ever ready assistance the field work would not have been possible. 

This research project was supported by funds from the hunting tax  of the Thueringer Ministry for Agriculture, Environment, and Nature Protection as well as by own private funds.