Today’s camera technology allows us to help scientists solve the natural world’s mysteries
Today’s camera technology allows us to help scientists solve the natural world’s mysteries
By Scott Harper, director Spying on Animals  

Since their invention, cameras have been an essential tool in understanding and documenting wildlife. In the past, dedicated scientists would devote days of sitting, floating or hanging from precarious locations hoping to capture that rare moment when an animal crossed their viewfinder. And while these photographs helped us gauge the size, appearance and some basic facts about the creatures, many of the nuances of the natural world remained hidden.

Breakthrough camera technology revolutionizing the study of wildlife

The advanced cam-tech we reveal in The Nature of Things documentary Spying on Animals, has changed all that. We can now capture wildlife — in both still and video photography — without the on-site presence of a living person. Sophisticated motion, light and heat sensors attached to unmanned cameras have become equivalent to the invention of the microscope in terms of what they can reveal.

'Innovations in drone, onboard, satellite and microscopic cameras also help give us unprecedented access to locations such as treetops, burrows, nests, grasslands, icefields and oceans with minor human impact. While the footage they capture is both fascinating and beautiful, it also provides scientists with volumes of new data that could help solve nature’s remaining mysteries, and, in so doing, provide a blueprint to save entire ecosystems.

Remote cameras in an Indian jungle catch rare images of endangered tigers, helping scientists track each animal's movement through their habitat, even count an entire population. In the remote Arctic, drones quietly follow a hard-to-study bowhead whale population and answer a 170-year-old mystery about their behaviour.

Sometimes, the animals take the pictures themselves! Ultra-light collar-cameras worn by woodland caribou provide POVs we’ve never seen before plus details about their diet and the amount of space they need to survive.  

Cameras bring us closer to nature

This revolution in nature photography is also changing the way we bond with animals. These images tell profound stories about the natural world and help people connect on an emotional level with animals they’ll never encounter in their day-to-day lives. Of course, the closer we are to nature, the more likely we are to take steps to preserve it.

Citizen Science Projects Around the World

Penguin Watch
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General Info and links to Citizen Science projects

For a Grade 4 class watching a live stream of penguins in the Antarctic, or lions in the Savannah, this is an opportunity to relate to specific creatures many thousands of miles away.

From the comfort of our living rooms, we follow the story of an individual giant armadillo in the Brazilian Pantanal as it first emerges from its burrow to the night its life ends.

Citizen scientists can participate in real science

New camera technology also lets us get directly involved with the study and preservation of nature. This movement is called Citizen Science, and it’s growing globally.

In Spying on Animals, we explore the case study of Snapshot Safari. Here, the entire ecosystem of southern Africa is being photographed to help local communities, farmers and government agencies better understand what’s happening on their land and be better prepared to manage it.

Innovative cameras film bowhead whales, giant armadillos and woodland caribou to reveal new insghts
Hidden cameras reveal the funnier side of animal behaviour

These remote cameras take thousands of pictures, too many for any one group of researchers to comb through. The internet makes it possible to upload them in bulk and have the public — literally anywhere — log into a site and classify them by species, location or date.

A mountain of data suddenly becomes manageable and useful for scientists. Anyone who feels passionately about being part of a study — one that may have the potential to save a species — can be involved.

For more watch Spying on Animals.