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

[ Project Watch ]

Where the Boys (and Girls) Are

Solving the mystery of the “lost years”

Tagged loggerhead turtle

Tagged loggerhead turtle
Photo by Jim Abernethy

Ever tried to track a baby sea turtle? It’s not easy. They hatch on the beach and immediately head out to sea to go—where?

For years, scientists have put forth various theories about where the baby turtles go on their maiden voyage, but there’s been no hard data. Until scientists came up with a lightweight tracking device, there was no way to follow the turtles’ movements from the time they hatched until they returned to the same beach years later to mate.

Now we have some data and new insights, thanks to Kate Mansfield, a marine biologist at the University of Central Florida, and a team of scientists from the UCF, Florida Atlantic University, University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and University of Wisconsin. The team tracked 17 loggerhead turtles for 27 to 220 days in the open ocean, using small, solar-powered satellite tags. Read more…

[ Project Watch ]

Summer Reading: The Sixth Extinction

The Sixth ExtinctionA 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.

Read more…

[ Project Watch ]

On a photo safari in Africa? Turn off geotagging.

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.

geotag_sign Read more…

[ Cool Ways to Help ]   [ Interviews ]   [ Project Watch ]

Instant Wild: Smart People, Awesome Technology

ZSL’s Alasdair Davies tells us how it’s done.

Instant Wild Images

Images captured by Instant Wild cameras in Africa are instantly transmitted to the Web for identification by the public.

Alasdair Davies

Alasdair Davies

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?
Instant Wild logo
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…

[ Project Watch ]

Sharks on Twitter

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.

Twitter messages

The Surf Life Saving WA Twitter Feed  –  @SLSWA

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.

Grey Nurse Shark

Grey Nurse shark, South West Rocks, NSW, Australia
Photograph © Richard Ling, via Wikimedia.



[ Cool Ways to Help ]   [ Project Watch ]

A Different Kind of Quantified Self

MIsfit Shine

Misfit Shine “activity monitor”

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…

[ Amazing Images ]   [ Project Watch ]

BeetleCopter View of the Serengeti

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.