Here’s how technology is helping save endangered wildlife

By Jenna Tsui, Technology Blogger, The Byte Beat

Aerial drone photo of giraffes in the African savanna. Photo: Shutterstock.

Technology’s impact is undeniable. Many of us experience it every day with powerful smartphones and computers that are bringing the world together even at a time of social isolation. Its prevalence has brought advantages and disadvantages, and one often overlooked benefit is its role in wildlife conservation.

Scientists are using advanced technology to supplement conventional conservation techniques for better outcomes. It’s hard to save a species when you don’t know much about its habitat or genetics, but new inventions can assist. Here are a few methods researchers are using to protect threatened animals from extinction.

Drones

Drone technology is a favorite among farmers and recreationists, and it occupies a valuable place in animal conservation efforts. Using drones eliminates the need for researchers to fly to remote, dangerous locations and track animals. Instead, they send drones to monitor activity and report information on animal health and habitat. These conservation drones take pictures, record videos and even drop animal bait.

Rats have become an invasive species on the Galápagos Islands, which poses a threat to the birds living there. With GEF support, the organization Island Conservation has been working to eradicate rats and, in some places, using drones to drop poisoned rat bait in precise locations. By using aerial vehicles to handle this invasion, scientists are restoring the islands’ natural order even in difficult to access places while leaving native flora and fauna undisturbed.

Ocean Alliance uses specially made drones called SnotBots to collect DNA from whale blows. The devices provide a non-invasive way to monitor whale health, and they’re technologically advanced yet cost-effective. Researchers receive information on hormones, microbiomes and stress indicators, all from the animals’ mucus.

Satellites

Satellites are another way to provide information on both the animals and the habitat. Conservationists use satellites to map areas and discover where wild animals live, hunt and migrate. They can also track landscape changes that affect animals living in the habitat, whether these are due to human interference or natural occurrences. This information can help scientists understand and even predict wildlife patterns that are key to successful conservation.

Two primary systems exist for tracking animals — the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite and the GPS network. Long-distance migrations can be hard to track with standard GPS tagging, but satellite imagery makes this easier to monitor. Researchers obtain data on large groups that would be challenging to observe with individual trackers. Many scientists combine GPS tagging and satellite imaging to paint a full picture of the ecosystems and species they are studying to try to conserve.

GPS tags let researchers track animals’ exact whereabouts. This ability is useful if they ever need to relocate specific animals — which often happens when large predators make contact with humans. Tags are usually used for large animals because they require bulky batteries, but satellite trackers can attach to some smaller species.

Modern GPS trackers come with sensors that can measure body movement, breathing and heart rate. Some of these trackers can record data in real-time, allowing researchers to study an animal while it’s on the move. If it exhibits unusual behavior, they can send out a patrol to discover the problem. These at-the-ready response systems can save endangered creatures before it’s too late.

Firefighters combating the Australian bushfires are using Adashi FirstResponse MDT software, which contains Geographic Information System mapping and turn-by-turn vehicle navigation. These technologies lead them to other responders, give information on the scene and display improved map routes for how to navigate safely.

By using this tech, they can act with greater efficiency to dampen the fires, stop the deaths of wild animals and protect ancient and rare forests. One example includes the last known stand of Wollemi pines, sometimes called “dinosaur trees” because the fossil record shows they existed more than 200 million years ago. They were narrowly saved from bushfires by Australian firefighters earlier this year.

Protecting Wildlife with Innovation

Scientists will continue to improve technologies to meet conservation needs, especially with climate change bearing down on the world’s ecosystems. Innovations in information collection, tracking, and response can produce new generations of technology in response to a changing world.

Jenna Tsui is a technology and environmental enthusiast with bylines on TriplePundit, Environmental Protection Online, Green Journal and more. To see more of her work, visit The Byte Beat or follow her on Twitter.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the world’s leading international institution investing in the joint management, care, and restoration of our planet.