Astro-Ecologists Use Tech for Counting Endangered Species

Research teams are now depending on tech for counting endangered species. We touch on the astrological software and techniques used for wildlife conservation.

Astro-Ecologists Use Tech for Counting Endangered Species

To ensure maximum animal conservation efforts, researchers are now relying on tech for counting endangered species.

That’s right, it’s going to take teamwork from astrophysicists, conservationists, and ecologists to retrieve solid data that will help save animal populations. Serg Wich (a conservationist) and Dr. Steve Longmore (an astrophysicist) who work at Liverpool John Moores University established this concept. They believe this monitoring technique will save a wide variety of endangered species.

“With the current accelerating loss of biodiversity, I think it’s going to be more and more important that scientists from all disciplines start coming together and putting in all their ideas, from all backgrounds, to try and help with the global problems we have,” said Maisie Rashman, another astrophysicist from Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom.

Usually, researchers perform manual counts of at-risk species, but these traditional methods took time and money. Plus, to photograph or even physically count the animals, researchers would need to wait for decent weather. Sometimes, they would rely solely on signs of the endangered species’ presence, such as abandoned nests.

Meanwhile, for decades, astrologists have been using specialized software and techniques to identify distant galaxies and stars just by the light they emit.

What do animals and stars have in common? They both emit heat. It was unsure whether star-gazing technology would work, but to researchers, it was worth a shot. Similar to stars and galaxies in space, thermal infrared technology could help scientists accurately monitor subjects residing on Earth. Together, drones and thermal-imaging cameras were able to capture footage of the animals for further examination.

It does not matter the time of day—scientists can identify difficult-to-find animals via their heat signature, or their body heat. Even if they hide behind leaves and trees in their natural habitat, they will still glow like stars in the thermal infrared footage.

Last year, a few drones found Riverine rabbits, one of the world’s most endangered animals, hiding in bushes. Drones also successfully detected 41 critically-endangered Bornean orangutans in the forest canopy. Typically, researchers counted their nests from the ground, but they needed to cover large areas—thankfully, drones handled this more quickly.

Furthermore, the researchers do not plan on only counting the populations of animals the world needs to save. They also believe they should modify the technology to detect poachers, particularly if they’re in dark areas. This way, researchers could monitor the animal, predict whether the poacher is likely to strike, and stop the strike before it happens.

Although this technology has already accomplished much, it is still a work in progress. Currently, research teams are working on building a reference library that includes thousands of animals. This library should also help scientists tell animal species apart; each animal has its own thermal footprint. The algorithm also needs to be perfected, as it should be able to account for rare occurrences such as atmospheric and weather conditions and injured animals—all of which affect the heat signature.

While this tech for endangered animals has already saved countless lives, it’s just the beginning. Species that we worried about now have a second chance thanks to the efforts of these dedicated scientists.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a United States-based, non-profit international environmental advocacy group, with headquarters in New York City and offices in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Los Angeles; New Delhi, India; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing, China.

The NRDC was co-founded in 1970 by John Adams, Richard Ayres, John Bryson, Edward Strohbehn, and Gus Speth.

OnEarth magazine is a quarterly publication of the NRDC dealing with environmental challenges.