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
A few months ago, just as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major report on climate change, I was in the middle of reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent book, The Sixth Extinction. The UN report scarily aligns with Kolbert’s location-specific observations about the apparently unstoppable environmental changes we homo sapiens are bringing about.
For many years, I’ve despaired as I read and watch reports about what we’re doing to the planet and to the other creatures that inhabit it with us. At times I’ve even fantasized that a good old-fashioned-yet-new-fangled plague might be the best thing that could happen. The good news (for me, anyway) is that Kolbert’s book has led me to think differently about the future of the Earth and its 7.2 billion people.
Tracking technologies can do so much good for endangered species. And a lot that’s not so good.
According to a story on Quartz, tech-savvy poachers are using geotagging data from tourist photos posted on social media sites to locate endangered rhinos and other animals. As a result, some African wildlife reserves have posted signs asking visitors to turn off the geotagging function on their smartphones and digital cameras. They also ask that visitors, when posting their photos, not reveal the location where the photos were taken.
ZSL’s Alasdair Davies tells us how it’s done.
Alasdair Davies is a Technical Advisor for the Zoological Society of London’s Conservation Technology program and a web developer for the EDGE of Existence program. His current focus is the delivery of ZSL’s Instant Wild project, the advancement of camera trapping technology, and the future development of the EDGE website. Alasdair is also a founder and director of the primate conservation organization The Great Primate Handshake. We conducted this interview via email.
When and where was the idea for Instant Wild hatched?
ZSL’s Instant Wild programme started life on a staircase within Conservation Programmes at Regent’s Park, London—better known as the location of ZSL London Zoo. It was one of those “Have you seen the new GSM-enabled camera traps? Aren’t they great…” conversations whilst holding the morning’s first mug of coffee and checking in on the day’s schedule.
Is there a story behind it?
Although the conversation on the staircase was brief, our Director of Conservation Programmes, Jonathan Baillie, was luckily the other person on the stairs that morning. Later that afternoon, he called me into his office. It was evident that he had been pondering the morning’s conversation and I could sense that there was an exciting idea on the table. Within in an hour, the name Instant Wild was decided upon and the concept of sending the very photos the cameras take to the general public for instant analysis was founded. We’d have hundreds of thousands of eyes scanning thousands of photos from across the globe every single day. It could answer so many questions, and there wasn’t a second to lose. Read more…
An item from the O’Reilly Solid Newsletter that caught my eye:
Surfing in West Australia? Check your Twitter feed first. 338 local sharks are on Twitter, and tweet when they get within .6 miles of shore.
The sharks have been tagged as part of an ongoing Shark Monitoring Project undertaken by the Department of Fisheries to improve safety at West Australian beaches and help scientists better understand the movements of white sharks in that area.
I just got a personal tracking device that tells me how many calories I’ve burned, how much sleep I got last night, and how many more steps I need to take to meet my daily goal. Lots of people I know are busily keeping track of their activities with these sorts of devices, competing with each other to get the highest daily total.
As I fiddled with the device and got it set up, I wondered if it would be possible to create a similar device that would track things like how much carbon we each add to the environment, how much waste we generate, how much water we use—and how much we’ve done during the day to mitigate our negative impact on the planet. The daily goal: to get as close to impact-neutral as possible. Read more…
One of my earliest posts on this blog was about BeetleCam, a remote-controlled mobile camera built by Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas to get close up to all kinds of wildlife. Their goal was to shoot photographs without disturbing the animals or putting themselves in harm’s way. Their BeetleCam photographs of lions, elephants, leopards, African buffalo, and African wild dogs are startlingly beautiful.
Now BeetleCam has gone aerial: Will Burrard-Lucas has just introduced the BeetleCopter. He recently returned from the Serengeti with this beautiful aerial footage from his own custom-built camera copter.
Burrard-Lucas is a great photographer, with or without the help of BeetleCams or Copters; he’s captured exceptional images of wildlife all over the globe. His aim, as he says on his website, is “to inspire people to celebrate and conserve the natural wonders of our planet.” Mission accomplished.
If his work inspires you to look into getting a BeetleCam or BeetleCopter, check out Camtraptions, the company Burrard-Lucas recently launched to develop and sell remote and camera trap devices. You may not be able to travel the world as he does, but–if you’re into photography–with one (or both!) of these clever devices you just might discover something new in your own neck of the woods.
Animal Warrior* has all of the elements of a great video game: a perilous task, bad guys, all kinds of obstacles to overcome and puzzles to solve, exotic settings, high-tech weaponry, and general mayhem.
Well, it could have all of those things, if someone would just take the idea and produce it. In addition to making a pile of money, the game could do some good in the real world by highlighting one of the most important conservation issues of our time.
The goal: Stop evil poachers from capturing and killing endangered species like rhinos, elephants, lions, tigers, orangutans, and leopards in remote areas of Africa and Asia. The poachers are using assault rifles, helicopters, and high-tech detection and communications tools to locate and kill the animals – and the game wardens trying to protect them. Stop the poachers, save the animals, and help the wardens.
Game action: Outsmart the poachers and smugglers by undertaking paramilitary maneuvers to thwart, capture, or kill them, overcoming obstacles and various natural perils in remote and challenging environments, and creating alliances with local game wardens and communities. Avoid inadvertently injuring or killing randomly appearing eco-tourists and innocent locals, and don’t cause significant habitat destruction as you confront and battle poachers.
Not only would Animal Warrior be a blast (literally) to play, it could also help to create wider awareness of and empathy for the real-world problem of poaching. Extra bonus: some portion of the likely-to-be-huge profits could be donated to current anti-poaching efforts in Asia and Africa. It’s a win-win-win. Who’s game?
*My working title for the game; if you create it, you can call it whatever you want. And take all the credit, too.