Technological Advances in Conservation

Post by guest blogger Lori Robinson, founder of AfricaInside.

From implanting radio transmitters, to mounting GoPro cameras on the backs of small model planes, technology is aiding conservationists worldwide.

In this highly anticipated session at the Great Ape Summit, Technology and Conservation, we learned about the new technology, (and old technology applied in new ways), being used to help the people who are helping save the Great Apes.

James Robins shared his struggles with finding rehabilitated orangutans once they are released back into the wild in NE Borneo’s Tabin Wildlife Reserve. That’s why Robins now implants the apes with radio transmitters the size of a quarter. “Before we began using this method, there was virtually no way to monitor a released orangutan, and therefore a dirth of data on them once they were released.”

Although the transmitters last about 3 three years, the ape recovers from the implant surgery within an average of 11 days, and the transmitter has allowed the orangutans to be monitored more easily, James warned of the down side. Wounds from the surgery can become infected, other apes can damage the transmitters (purposely or not?) in fights, the transmitters have an 18% failure rate (too high), and their range of transmission is limited.

Also presenting during this session was Serge Wich, founder of ConservationDrones. Serge designed an inexpensive, simple conservation tool by attaching a camera and a transmitter to a model airplane.  The drones are able to take images of  nests, animals, fires, trees and even hatchling turtles. “The possibilities are limitless,” says Serge. “Finding poachers, and agriculture and logging concessions.” He envisions using the drones to upload images from camera traps so researchers no longer have to trek into the forests, saving time and money. Biodiversity data can be obtained from mapping plant species, and through an  attached microphone, from the sounds of animals and insects living in the forest.

Lilian Pintea from the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) agrees, “Drones are a great conservation tool, but can’t replace the high resolution images he gets from Google Earth technology.” Using satellite imagery, mobile mapping technology and geographic information systems Pintea has been mapping the forests of Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park for the past decade. His high-resolution images have enabled JGI to focus their conservation efforts on creating forest corridors for the chimps, and detecting vulnerable forests before they are destroyed.

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