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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…

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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.

 

 

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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…

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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.

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Update: Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge

Taking to the skies to save rhinos

Rhinoceros

By Kore (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This October I wrote a post about the Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge, a project sponsored by Kashmir-Robotics to help save the rhinos of Kruger National Park. Participating teams will compete for a $25,000 prize.

It’s exciting to see that 100 teams from 19 countries have signed up to participate; there are four multinational teams.

 


Volunteer to help the Challenge

Challenge organizers are in need of volunteers to help with marketing, team coordination, blogging, social media, engineering, and more. See the Challenge Facebook page for more information and updates on the competition. 

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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…

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Essential things you probably don’t know much about

We’re talking plankton. Yep, plankton.

Amphipod

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…