The Instant Wild project has set up a series of satellite-connected, motion-activated cameras in Kenya to help find and photograph rare animals. The camera tech, which was designed for the Zoological Society of London by Cambridge Consultants, is connected to an app that lets users see rare and endangered species in their natural habitat. And it could also catch poachers in the act.
The cameras are designed to take pictures whenever their sensors detect movement. Images are then sent back to a central transmission unit, which contains a Raspberry Pi computer with a satellite uplink and a wireless receiver. From there, the shots are compressed and sent to the ZSL servers, which broadcasts them to the Instant Wild app.
Since the technology will capture anything that moves, any poachers that pass in front of the camera will also be photographed. The hope is that the cameras will contribute to a reduction in poaching where it has been introduced.
"One of our aims is to stop the killing of animals on a daily basis by poachers," Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of ZSL's conservation program, said in a statement. "“In the last 18 months alone, more than 1,000 rhinos in Africa have been killed as a result of soaring demand for rhino horn products. We need to stop the poachers now before it’s too late."
The project received a Google Global Impact Award in June, which included a grant of $800,000. ZSL's campaign was bcked by celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton, and the technology was successfully tested in August. Now it's been deployed in the field.
One of the challenges for the camera team was finding ways to take shots at night without alerting poachers to the presence of the cameras. They solved the problem using an infrared flash that won't alarm animals or reveal the camera's location to humans.
Another was finding ways to make the cameras tough and resilient enough that they'd continue to work in extreme weather conditions or if they were attacked by animals, without making them too expensive. The team used off-the-shelf radios and cameras to keep costs down and built a robust case to keep them safe. Each camera runs on a single battery.
All data from the system is being shared with the Kenya WIldlife Service, which battles local poachers. There are also plans to expand the system to other parts of the world, incluing Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Himalayas and the South Pole.
This project isn't the first attempt to use technology to combat animal poaching. In late 2012, the World Wildlife Fund announced that it was introducing a system of drones and sensors to track animals in the wild so that poachers could be caught in the act.
And Sabi Sand, a South African game reserve, has been trying a lower-tech approach: they're injecting a mixture of dye and poison into rhino's horns to discourage both poachers and those who buy their products. The rhinos aren't harmed by the injections, but anyone who ingests the horn gets ill.