This protocol provides guidance to field workers on the correct use of radio tracking equipment.

Radio tracking is widely used in New Zealand to investigate the biology of both native and invasive animal species. However, a lack of understanding of the technique can result in an inefficient use of time and, even worse, the incorrect interpretation of findings.

This should be considered an essential guide for anyone who is about to embark on a radio tracking study for the first time, as well as a useful reference for those who are more experienced with the technique.

It provides a basic overview of how the equipment works and how it should be operated, as well as troubleshooting tips and information about equipment maintenance.

Download the protocol

Ground-based radio tracking: a best practice protocol (PDF, 572K)


  • Theory behind how radio frequency is used in wildlife tracking.
  • Practical information about the use of radio tracking equipment.
  • Explanation of the two tracking methods that are currently in use:
    • remote direction finding
    • close approach direction finding.
  • Troubleshooting tips.
  • Advice on equipment maintenance.

What is radio tracking?

Radio tracking is the practice of using receivers to gain information about animals that have had radio transmitters attached to them. It allows these animals to be monitored remotely, so that they experience minimal disturbance.

In the last 40 years, radio tracking has enabled biologists to gain previously unavailable insights into animal biology and to manage many animal species for conservation outcomes. In particular, it has been vital for species management studies on location, habitat use and breeding patterns.

It is used throughout New Zealand, not only to track threatened wildlife such as birds and wētā, but also to study the impacts of invasive species such as goats and pigs.

The technique does have critics, however, and research continues to investigate the impacts of attaching radio transmitters to animals. Therefore, although improvements are continually being made to the size and service life of transmitters, they should not be fitted as a matter of course in a study; instead, each case should be evaluated with regard to the overall benefit to the species.

Publication details

Published October 2014

Written by Emma Neill and Paul Jansen

Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit, Science and Capability Group


We are making the document/s available outside DOC to share our best practice. Any use by members of the public is at their own risk and DOC disclaims all liability in reference to that risk.

The document/s were written for DOC staff and may include DOC-specific terms and reference internal documents only accessible to DOC staff. You may need further help to do the work described and also need to get authorisation. Caveats may apply.

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