The O’Reilly Animals

A lot of smart people are working against time, using new technologies to save endangered animals and their habitats. This is where we share their stories, highlight opportunities for developers and makers to lend a hand, and, as we’re able, connect people to the resources and expertise they need.

Click on an animal to learn more

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The California Condor Cam

They’re back—and ready for their closeup.

Condor in flight

Condor in flight (note tagged wing).
By Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US (Flying California condor. Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, as with many species, time and human beings have not been kind to the condor. The first recorded sighting of a California Condor in Monterey Bay occurred in 1602, by Spanish explorer Father Antonio de la Ascension. At the time, California Condors roamed large areas of the American Southwest and West Coast. By 1987, the birds were nearly extinct due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction.

The last remaining condors in the wild—the entire population consisted of 22 individuals—were captured in 1987 and moved to zoos in San Diego and Los Angeles in an attempt to save the species through a captive breeding program. That program has been a success: since 1991, condors have been slowly released into the wild, and today there are 435 condors in existence, 237 of which live in the wild.

In mid-October, the first camera to capture live streaming video of condors in the wild was turned on in the remote hills of Big Sur. Read more…

[ Cool Ways to Help ]

Makers: Build the winning drone and win $25,000

Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge

Kashmir-Robotics, a division of the Al-Kareem Foundation, is hosting the Wildlife Conservation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge to stop rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.

The Problem

Kruger National Park in South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s rhinoceros. Since 2010, over 50% of the rhino population in Kruger has been killed by poachers harvesting the rhinos’ horns for the Asian black market. The park is patrolled by rangers, but since Kruger is about the size of New Jersey, it’s nearly impossible for them to catch poachers in the act.

“Most of the rhino poaching in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is done by incursions from neighboring Mozambique. Poachers enter the park and cross the unfenced South African border in the bush at night. They will then hunt for rhino and other animals using large caliber hunting rifles and night vision goggles. They are also armed with AK47 automatic assault rifles. They can illegally enter the park anywhere along the 220 mile border with Mozambique and operate for 1-3 days or longer at a time. This is rough African bush. There are almost no roads, only narrow game paths. No runways. No cellphone signal at ground level. They need to be detected and stopped before any animals are shot. “

The Challenge

The challenge is to design aircraft that can be launched in the bush, operate for hours over the rugged terrain, detect and locate poachers, communicate over existing commercial infrastructures, and be recovered in the bush — all for under $3000 in materials. Read more…

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Essential things you probably don’t know much about

We’re talking plankton. Yep, plankton.


Amphipod (Zooplankton)

Bet most of you don’t know much about plankton, but you probably should, since they contribute substantially to the oxygen you breathe, among other essential planet-supporting activities. Now there’s a fun, mind-expanding way to learn about these exceptionally hard-working organisms—and help scientists collect data about the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

In mid-September, Zooniverse launched a project to crowd-source identification of plankton from photographic images captured at various locations around the globe. By identifying the numbers, sizes, and types of plankton found in these areas, scientists can analyze where and when plankton occur at different depths in the ocean; this information is a key to understanding the health of the oceans’ ecosystems.

Read more…

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Take a Virtual Tour of the World’s Coral Reefs

Photographers with new tools and technologies document reefs worldwide

In the 1960s and 70s,  the TV documentary series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau brought the magnificence of the oceans to millions of viewers. Cousteau, a French researcher, explorer, and filmmaker involved in oceanography since the 1940s, quickly became a cultural icon and a leading voice in the environmental movement.

Today, you don’t have to watch a TV documentary to see the undersea landscapes Jacques Cousteau spent his life documenting: thanks to the Catlin Seaview Survey, everyone can now conduct their own virtual tours of coral reefs, right on their laptops.

Coral Reef near Heron Island

An image of the coral reef near Heron Island, taken using the Seaview SVII camera.
By © Underwater Earth / Catlin Seaview Survey – [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Survey’s website, 40-50% of corals have been lost over the last 50 years due to pollution, overfishing, and climate change. And this decline is likely to continue, which is a critical issue for millions of people who rely on the reefs for food, coastal protection, and tourism dollars.

The Catlin Seaview Survey, launched in September 2012 on the Great Barrier Reef, aims “to scientifically record the world’s coral reefs and reveal them all in high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic vision.” The image data collected by the survey will enable change to be monitored over time, enabling scientists, policymakers, and the general public to see and understand what’s happening to the reefs, which may spur more action to restore and protect reefs worldwide. The images clearly show the difference between active, healthy reefs and reefs that have suffered severe decline.  Read more…

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Wild Again

On Kickstarter: Beautiful Photographs of Habitat Restoration

Tea Picking in Kenya

Tea picking in Kenya. Photograph © Barrney Wilczak.

In the early 1900s, thousands of acres of Kenyan forest were cleared for the production of monoculture crops of tea and the eucalyptus used to dry it. Now some of that habitat is being restored by the Ecological Restoration Alliance, a group of botanic gardens from the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, China, Australia, and Jordan. Their goal is to restore 100 damaged and degraded habitats across 6 continents in 20 years. The places they’re targeting include tropical forests, prairies, wild places within cities, wetlands, and coastal sites — ecosystems that are threatened and no longer able to sustain people’s livelihoods or to support biodiversity.

The Alliance’s approach includes restoring wild areas, protecting restored habitats, and creating socioeconomic benefits for local communities. And it’s an approach that works. In just 12 years, restoration of the upland forest in Kenya has transformed a eucalyptus plantation into a thriving forest with over 150 bird species, a wide range of mammals, and hundreds of rare and endangered tree species. Read more…

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Wild Ones

Wild Ones (book cover)“The [Xerces] butterfly had been presumed extinct for years when, in 1941, two young entomologists happened upon a small number of Xerces near a creek in San Francisco’s Presidio. Ecstatic to see the butterfly still alive, they netted and killed large numbers of specimens to trade with their friends. It was the last time the butterfly was ever seen.”

Typically, butterfly species have been decimated by habitat loss or fragmentation, and invasive species; the Xerces butterfly was the first American butterfly known to be wiped out by humans. There have been many such missteps in our history, it turns out.

Jon Mooallem, a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, has written a book that should be required reading for everyone who gives one whit about endangered species. Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America takes the reader into the field with endangered polar bears, butterflies, and birds—and the well-intentioned people trying to save them. It’s an illuminating, sometimes alarming trip through history and culture, with stories of our apparently inherent desire to conquer and acquire wildlife (collecting specimens either living or dead), as well as our erratic and sometimes misguided attempts to preserve it. Read more…

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A Great Summer Read

Douglas Adams’ expeditions to find endangered species

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams
via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, that Douglas Adams, writer, humorist, dramatist, and author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Last Chance to See, by Adams and Mark Carwardine, is the story of a series of expeditions the two men took in 1989:

Mark Carwardine: “We put a big map of the world on a wall, Douglas stuck a pin in everywhere he fancied going, I stuck a pin in where all the endangered animals were, and we made a journey out of every place that had two pins.”

The result was a radio series for BBC Radio 4 (you can listen to the radio series on the BBC’s “Last Chance to See” website)  and the book, about which the Atlantic Monthly wrote, “Who would have thought that a book in the field of “ecology/nature”…could be as lively, sharply satirical, brilliantly written and even funny as this one is?…ranks with the best set pieces in Mark Twain.”

Douglas Adams passed away in 2001. In 2009, Mark Carwardine and Adams’ close friend Stephen Fry went back to the places Adams and Carwardine had visited 20 years earlier. Carwardine and Fry blogged throughout the project, Carwardine with written posts and Fry with video. Their expeditions were documented by the BBC and released as a TV series (now available on DVD) and a book, both entitled Last Chance to See. Highly recommended.