Children

Technology to nature’s rescue

(From left) Naruto, the crested macaque monkey, whose selfie became an Internet sensation following a copyright debate; a critically endangered Northwest African or Saharan cheetah amused by a camera trap; an illustration of a vaquita. PHOTOS: David J Slater; REUTERS & Greenpeace via AP   | Photo Credit: Ho

Camera trap

One can be forgiven for looking down on the humble camera trap - after all, this automated device has been around for decades. But one would be hard-pressed to find a simpler yet effective device used in wildlife research and conservation.

Though it began life as a device requiring films, today it has grown to be digital, sending real-time images and taking videos too.

Most commonly used to document the presence of elusive wildlife, the potential of camera traps has expanded over the years. Camera traps and videos have been used to study and document several species from arboreal mammals to fast-flying humming birds.

The devices have also helped study the likes of bats hibernating in the dark. The bonus? The images and videos of what is called a “bycatch” - species that were not the intended targets!

SULAWESI or CRESTED BLACK MACAQUE

SULAWESI or CRESTED BLACK MACAQUE   | Photo Credit: David J Slater

 

Acoustic sensors

While camera traps help through visuals, acoustic sensors help through sounds. After all, aren’t birds and animals also vocal? These automated monitoring devices can record sounds for a long time - helping researchers not just ascertain the presence of animals and birds but also analyse the data gathered to learn about the ecosystem, population density, change in wildlife behaviour and even human interference.

It is said that these devices are especially “useful for aerial and underwater species”. According to Mongabay, a non-profit environmental science and conservation news platform, researchers in Mexico were able to detect the decreasing number of vaquitas (a species of porpoise) through acoustic monitoring of their home in the Gulf of California.

Interestingly, journal Nature reported how acoustic recordings provide detailed information on wildlife behaviour during conservation translocations too - through a study that tested the efficacy of a collar-mounted acoustic recording unit to remotely monitor the behaviour of panda mothers and their dependent young.

Stem cells

In March 2018, the last male of the northern white rhinoceros died. Though the species is on the brink of extinction - there are only two ageing females left on the planet - not all hope is lost. The highly advanced technology of stem cells could still save the species, feel scientists.

Stem cells can become any cell in the body. And this process “involves researchers removing cells from frozen rhino tissue, which would be ‘reprogrammed’ into stem cells that would then become sperm and eggs”. And the resulting union has the potential to give rise to an embryo of the northern white rhino. It sounds like a rather simple plan but its execution is not without complexities (such as finding a healthy female to implant the embryo in). So, though realising this dream could be years away, this technology does revive hope for many such species on the brink of extinction.

Drones, AI, sirens and more...

This illustration of a Vaquita Marina, provided by Greenpeace, shows an image of the highly endangered sea mammal swimming in the sea. Mexico’s president, its richest man and actor Leonardo DiCaprio have signed an agreement that aims to protect marine ecosystems in the upper Gulf of California where the vaquita porpoise is critically endangered. (Greenpeace via AP)

This illustration of a Vaquita Marina, provided by Greenpeace, shows an image of the highly endangered sea mammal swimming in the sea. Mexico’s president, its richest man and actor Leonardo DiCaprio have signed an agreement that aims to protect marine ecosystems in the upper Gulf of California where the vaquita porpoise is critically endangered. (Greenpeace via AP)  

 

After habitat loss, the greatest threat to biodiversity comes in the form of illegal wildlife trade, affecting not just animals but plants too. And at the heart of this illegal trade lie poachers. With many wildlife reserves having to make do with a limited number of rangers, it’s drones that come in handy to watch out for or thwart poachers.

 

Fitted with heat-sensitive infra-red optics (which can easily spot warm-blooded mammals - including humans - even at night), these drones become particularly helpful to spot poachers who usually work stealthily under the cover of darkness.

In fact, reports suggest that drones played an invaluable role in forest surveillance during the lockdown in our country. More help in anti-poaching initiatives come in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. AI systems combined with cameras are known to help rangers detect and stop poachers before they strike, and even predict where poachers are most likely to strike.

Facial recognition software too have been used to identify injured animals of a group, especially among endangered species, that could fall prey to poaching. Interestingly, sirens are useful too - not just to ward off poachers. A study has shown that sirens were effective in keeping rhinos off problem areas such as perimeter fences where poachers are likely to strike. By establishing such avoidance behaviours in animals, technology can aid in anti-poaching efforts at relatively low costs, the study indicated.

Social media

In today’s world where hashtags create mass global movements, the role of social media in environment conservation is as huge as it is indispensable. Pictures, videos, content and data shared widely on many social media platforms generate not just curiosity but also awareness and conversations around conservation.

From reports of palm oil-induced habitat destruction to debates on the government’s new policies on the environment, information is shared widely at the click of a button. More importantly, reports suggest that the younger generation learns a lot about the natural world and its conservation through the virtual world.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 2:39:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/technology-to-natures-rescue/article32899417.ece

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