How technology is playing a key role in animal conservation

05 September 2017

Most people are aware of the extent to which technology has become a key part of day to day life; you are probably carrying more computing power in your pocket right now than NASA used to send Apollo 11 to the moon. However, you may not realise the extent of which modern technology influences every aspect of human activity. An example of a previously low-tech area which is accelerating into the smartphone era is that of animal conservation.

Previously the domain of low tech equipment, with little technology more complicated than a pair of binoculars or a radio, recent technological developments have increased both the automation and interconnectivity of conservation efforts, providing crucial boosts in both scope and effectiveness.

The most obvious area of animal conservation benefiting from increased connectivity is tracking and monitoring, both of animals and poachers. Rather than spending their evenings scanning the horizon and trying not to fall asleep, conservationists now use camera traps triggered by movement or sound sensors to monitor key routes. For specific animal studies, unrivalled footage can be obtained using hidden cameras, which can be disguised as rocks, dung or even other animals!

Wildlife camera trap

Once detected, animals can now be tracked using small, robust and low cost GPS tracking systems, which can be attached to the animals to allow migratory patterns to be tracked on a global level. Instead of using bulky trackers or radio collars; it is now possible to create a basic RFID chip that is small enough to be placed upon a bee! Further, interconnected monitoring networks such as the SMART system (developed by the Zoological Society of London) allows conservationists to upload and share data on animal or poacher movements.

Microchipped Turtle

In addition to uses in tracking and monitoring, technology can also be used to actively protect animals. The problem of dolphins becoming caught in fishing nets and drowning is well known; companies such as Fishtek Marine are now producing audio deterrent pingers to scare dolphins away from fishing nets, avoiding bycatch of dolphins without interfering with the capture of fish. On a more domestic level, thousands of annual bird fatalities can be avoided by the use of bird safety glass, such as that produced by Ornilux that incorporates a layer into the glass that is opaque to ultraviolet radiation, therefore visible to birds but invisible to humans. As a result, birds see coated glass as a solid layer, rather than open sky, and fatal collisions can be avoided.

Of course, not all attempts to use technology bolster conservation efforts are universally applauded. Options such as attempting to clone endangered, or even extinct, animals are hotly debated amongst conservationists; this is likely to become a key issue as cloning technology advances. Plans by several biotech companies to flood the illegal market for rhino horn with synthetic horns, with the intent of supressing the demand for real horns and thereby reducing poaching, appear to have been abandoned in the face of a backlash from conservationists worried that this tactic will not reduce (and may increase) poaching. However, whether positive or negative, it seems likely that the influence of technology on animal conservation projects will only increase in the future.

Greg Ward

Greg Ward

Senior Associate

Our Expert
Greg Ward
Greg Ward
Location: London (UK)

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