South Dakota biologist develops new tracking collar using 3D printing

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A Resource Biologist with South Dakota’s Game, Fish & Parks is working to transform the way wildlife populations are tracked. Brady Neiles used 3D printing to create an expandable tracking collar that can replace surgical implantation and old collar technologies used on juvenile bobcats.

Currently, the main tracking method used on bobcat kittens is surgical implantation of radio transmitters. The implants can migrate to other areas of the animal’s body, causing injuries and even fatalities in some cases.

Additionally, Neiles says collars used now are essentially stuck in the ’70s. They use weatherproof fabrics and bolt attachments that stretch very little and often reach their end of life in under six months.

They also don’t work with bobcats under the age of six months, meaning there is very little published data on kitten survival rates.

“Really, no studies in the U.S. have been published concerning … kitten survival because they really haven’t been collared under the age of six months or so, because they’re too small and they grow too fast,” said Neiles. 

3D printed bobcat collars

Neiles initially brought his idea to life by teaming up with B9Creations, a globally recognized 3D printing company based in Rapid City and founded by former Ellsworth Air Force Base pilot Mike Joyce.

After creating a proof of concept, Neiles was given federal funding, matched by the state of South Dakota and West Virginia University, to develop the new collars. The funding also covers tuition and living stipend for a graduate student to help Neiles roll out the second phase of his work.

He is currently in the process of prototyping a new version of the expandable collars using a 3D printing material that has high impact strength, but also stretches easily.

If successful, the collars’ potential extends far beyond South Dakota and juvenile bobcats.

“Once everything is tuned up, the collars would make a huge difference — we collar a lot of juveniles in wildlife, so down the road, I could see this being used to collect population estimates on a lot of other species as well. We collar 240 fawns every single year throughout the state of South Dakota. That would be a huge opportunity, too,” said Neiles.



Categories: Local News, South Dakota News