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Surveillance Tech Can Help Save Endangered Species

22 Aug 2023

What is happening?

Biologging, the practice of attaching devices to animals to collect scientific data, has been developing at an accelerated speed over the last 5 years. Now, scientists can use GPS-tracking devices to track an animal’s movement, migration patterns, food habits and much more. 

For many years, simple biologgers have been employed to transmit essential physiological information such as an animal's heart rate or body temperature. However, advancements in technology are providing researchers with a more sophisticated understanding of animal behaviour as they navigate their natural habitats undisturbed. This offers access to remote locations that are difficult to study, especially for wild and endangered animals. 

Indeed, some new devices use kinetic energy, which means they use energy generated by an animal’s movements to power itself, some are so small and light that they do not burden the animal and some have an alarm fitted to alert villagers if a wild animal is approaching their fields.


What is in it for you?

Elephants are native species in Indonesia, nearly all of which are extinct, leaving two: Sumatran Elephant and Borneo Elephant. The former are only found in Indonesia’s Sumatra region, which has experienced a decline of more than 50% of the Sumatran Elephants over the last decade. A major cause of this were violent human-elephants conflicts. After Rimba Satwa Foundation (RSF), a group of animal conservationists, fitted GPS collars around the leaders of Sumatran herds in 2020, not a single violent clash has been recorded since. For our readers in Indonesia, this highlights noteworthy progress in the conservation of their endangered native species and demonstrates a greater commitment towards biodiversity. 

Between 2016 and 2019, a total of 52 hedgehogs, a rural species at risk in Britain, were equipped with GPS tracking devices programmed to log the hedgehogs' positions every five minutes during the night. The data revealed that male hedgehogs covered greater distances compared to females in search of a mate, making them more vulnerable to road mortality. Research like this can inform strategies such as building wildlife tunnels that enable hedgehogs to bypass busy roads. For our readers in Britain, this reduces the number of accidents on motorways and improves nighttime driving safety. 

In Denmark, researchers have developed a kinetic-powered GPS tracker, configured to work throughout an animal’s lifetime. It weighs only 150 grams (about 0.3 pounds), which makes it suitable for mammals as small as dogs, and costs less than a tenth of a traditional GPS collar in the market, which cost up to $3700 apiece. So far, it has been fitted onto wild horses, and will be used to improve rewilding initiatives, where animals are released into the wild, but often die from starvation. For our readers in Denmark, this invention can help prevent confrontations between humans and wild wolves that live in the suburban forests, ensuring safety of both parties involved. 

Similarly, scientists have recently attached compact video cameras to the upper fins of tiger sharks in the Bahamas. The footage unveiled the existence of the world's largest known seagrass ecosystem, expanding the previously recognized seagrass expanse by over 40%. Seagrass ecosystems are important carbon stores, serving as habitats for numerous marine species, and offering a defence against coastal erosion. Our readers interested in conservation are now better placed to safeguard these important ecosystems and prevent extinction of various marine species.

What happens next?

With more than 42,000 species threatened by extinction in the world, advancements in GPS tracking technology can help track, protect and conserve the remaining populations from man-made disasters. Research efforts are ongoing around the world in making the technology more efficient and compact.

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