12 Ways Technology Is Saving Endangered Species

By Derek Markham, TreeHugger

Our human tendency toward innovation and ingenuity, coupled with our advancing technology, is helping to come up with solutions for saving some of the other species on Earth from becoming endangered, or even extinct. From low-tech ideas used in novel ways, to altogether new technology used in place of older versions, there’s a wide variety of concepts for using science and tech and gadgetry to preserve endangered species.

1. Better Mapping and Visualization

Google Earth has proven itself to be more than just a way to make maps or get directions, it’s become a real tool for the conservation and preservation of species and habitats. New species have been discovered by scientists browsing the globe and endangered species and their vital habitats are being protected by organizations using this powerful software as a mapping and visualization tool to illustrate the threats to their survival.

2. Smart Collars for Endangered Species

We’ve got smart phones and smart meters and smart grids, and now biologists will have new “smart collars” that use GPS and accelerometer technology to track not only a wild animal’s location but also how it is moving, when it is hunting, what it is hunting – in other words, these collars can tell us its every move. Researchers hope that by knowing exactly what certain species of animals are up to, they can understand them much more thoroughly – and possibly even predict behavior and reduce human-animal conflicts, revolutionizing the way we interact with and manage wildlife.

© William Burrard-Lucas

3. Remote Control Photography and Video

For learning about the needs and risks of endangered species, getting up close and recording the details of wildlife in their natural habitat can be essential – and problematic, due to the difficulty of getting clear access without exposing our own presence. But thanks to ideas like the BeetleCam, observing some kinds of animals is getting easier. Conservation photographer Will Burrard-Lucas has created a high-tech solution to help get him amazing images that would otherwise be impossible.

4. Remote Monitoring of Wildlife Sounds

Researchers have created a new computer technology that can listen to multiple bird sounds at one time, and identify which species are present and how they may be changing, due to habitat loss or climate change. This system could provide an automated approach to monitoring bird species, instead of having a field researcher doing direct observation. The researchers believe the technology can work not only for birds, but for many forest sounds, including species like insects and frogs, and perhaps even marine mammals.

5. Remote Controlled Sampling

If you want to take a sample from a very large animal, a whale, for instance, a team of scientists at ZSL Institute of Zoology have come up with a way to use a remote controlled helicopter to make that happen. Typically, tissue samples come at the cost of injury or invasive contact with whales. But rather than via blood, tissues can also be collected via blow-hole air, which is rich with, well, whale snot. The team came up with the non-invasive method of hovering a 3-foot remote controlled helicopter over a whale pod with petri dishes strapped to the bottom that can collect samples when a whale exhales.

6. Texting Elephants

Another version of the smart collar is one being used with elephants in Kenya to help ease human-animal conflicts there. The collars contain a mobile SIM card capable of sending text messages with the animal’s location for tracking their movements, and in the future may be able to ‘warn’ local farmers that the elephants are approaching their fields through a text message.

7. High-Tech Fish Hooks

A new high-tech magnetic fish hook, the SMART hook, could help keep sharks safer from fishing lines. The new hooks have a special metal coating that produces a voltage in seawater, and because sharks are highly sensitive to electric fields in the water, the SMART hook (Selective Magnetic and Repellent-Treated Hook), will help keep sharks away from the fishing lines intended for other species of fish.

8. Gene Sequencing

When endangered species are threatened by disease, being able to isolate the unaffected individuals for breeding is now getting an additional technological boost. Scientists are now using high-tech gene sequencing machines in a desperate attempt to save the Tasmanian devil from an infectious cancer called devil facial tumor disease that is threatening to wipe out the species.

Photo via OU/Lucy King

9. Beehive Fences

In some places, the interactions between farmers and elephants are getting a little bit easier, thanks to another species, the honeybee, and some innovative thinking. A fence made of beehives, strung together by wires, has been shown to be effective against elephants that have become a nuisance by raiding farmers’ crops.

10. Remote Measurement Tools

Getting up close to some species, such as sharks, to get precise measurements for conservation and research efforts, is a tricky business. But with some high-tech tools, such as a stereo-camera system for studying sharks, scientists are now able to take these measurements with great accuracy, without actually being in contact with the animal at all.

11. Conservation Drones

Not all drones are for the military. An ecologist and a biologist have created a conservation drone complete with cameras, sensors and GPS to map deforestation and count orangutans and other endangered species in northern Sumatra. Their $2,000 creation can be used for both monitoring and tracking long-term changes as well as providing real-time video and data feeds.

12. Predictive Analytics for Wildlife

IBM has created a new predictive analytics software that can be used to collect huge amounts of complex information about wildlife – such as what people think about them, where the animals are located, why they are hunted, how everything from education level to access to medicines impacts their decisions – and figure out the best areas to focus conservation efforts. This high-tech software might be a big key to saving some species.

We’re living in exciting times, as our technology is starting to enable us to come up with better solutions for conservation. Many of these ideas for helping to save endangered species have a common theme – using the data gathering and remote-operating possibilities in our hardware for better monitoring and observation – but there are also decidedly simple ones, such as the beehive fence, which is not only an example of an “appropriate technology,” but one which also serves a dual purpose, by providing a place for keeping bees.



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