Archive for the ‘wildlife computing’ Category

Now THIS is wildlife computing

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Elephant using a tablet computer.

Conservation drones

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Repurposing the tools of the hobbyist and, later, the war machine for conservation: the conservation drone.

Note: flying drones is no trivial matter. Often you need professional pilots to obtain good images.

Geospatial Technology to for Wildlife Management and Conservation

Monday, December 28th, 2009

From KT, Intro GIS.

Geospatial technology, especially GIS, is often viewed as an application for analyzing and understanding social distributions (e.g., literacy rate, birth rate, and death rate). Increasingly, geospatial technology is used to monitor wildlife migration to better understand and develop conservation and management techniques.

In the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in India researchers measured a variety of variables to determine suitable habitat space for tigers. To develop the model, GIS data layers for the area were created by digitizing topographic maps (i.e., contours, roads, and settlement patterns). Satellite information was used for forest type and forest density. Forest type information was derived using a false colour composite. To complete the data sets, researchers also collected field data on the ground truth of forest type, current habitat area and the habitat area of prey. They also performed a statistical analysis. The result was a map that illustrates habitat suitabile for tigers.

A similar study was undertaken in Florida to analyze suitable habitat areas for the highly endangered Florida panther. The method of this study however differed slightly from that of the tiger study. Here, researchers used GIS to overlay maps of many different parameters (i.e., land type, road structure, vegetation, and protected areas). They obtained shapefiles from government and private sources. Their conclusions mimicked what was seen in the tiger study: only small regions are suitable for long-term panther sustainability.

The GIS approach to these problems is particularly important because it is repeatable over time as variables such as land use and forest type change. It also gives researchers a large spatial context and ensures that maps and models only contain relevant information. I think these models are very useful, as they provide a way for a researcher or conservation official to easily look at many variables and how the variables overlay each other spatially.

livestock in Kenya aided by remote sensing and cellphones

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Imagine being a livestock herder, subsisting in a small community south of Nairobi in Kenya. Drought is a cyclical phenomenon in your grassland environment, and whenever it hits, you might come across a zebra carcass, or weep at the loss of one of your own cattle. One of the largest repercussions begins the moment drought becomes pervasive; everyone starts trying to sell animals before they die, and the price for livestock plummets. This is potentially the original meaning of the “stock” market, and the large investment you made in your animals over time is now nearly worthless. Frustrated, you wish you had sold your animals earlier, just before the drought when the price was normal.

The technology of remote sensing actually has large repercussions for communities such as yours, because of its capacity to observe large-scale trends and extrapolate into the future. Data collected by satellite avoids the high cost of groundwork in such large areas, and can provide global climate information that is not otherwise evident to people on the ground. Many researchers have extolled the virtues of remote-sensing operations for predicting drought and enabling mitigation strategies by those who would otherwise be adversely affected, and advocate for local policy-makers to institute this technology.

Hearing this, as a member of the local community, you might wonder how you will receive such information. You are aware that your tribe has extensive methods for predicting droughts, but feel open to the idea of reinforcing your predictions based on remote sensing data. However, you are not regularly in touch with the Internet. The families of your tribe are located at great distances throughout the landscape so it is difficult to approach everyone at once. Here, again, geospatial communications technologies can serve their own purposes! All the adults you know have a cell phone (even if they don’t read), and everyone can be connected to a larger network of information dissemination almost instantly. This type of alert has been proposed for fires in South Africa, and could revolutionize your access to drought early-warning systems. If everyone who was interested was able to register their phone number at the outset, information could be transmitted easily and quickly around the area, in a fashion timely enough for people to hedge their bets on when to sell their animals and prepare for a coming drought. Indeed, a relatively easy-to-use cell phone alert platform has been developed for crisis situations in developing countries. It is thought-provoking to anticipate that the food insecurity pervasive in the current Kenyan drought could be potentially mitigated.

Thanks to EC, Intro to GIS, for the post

texting elephants

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Kenyans have been very creative in using geospatial tools to track animals and manage parks. One challenge is to handle the increasing numbers of human-elephant conflicts, such as trampling gardens and raiding food supplies. In this most recent example of creativity, elephants have been fitted with collars that text local residents when the elephants approach humans’ food.

The text message from the elephant flashed across Richard Lesowapir’s screen: [the elephant] Kimani was heading for neighboring farms.

The huge bull elephant had a long history of raiding villagers’ crops during the harvest, sometimes wiping out six months of income at a time. But this time a mobile Relevant Products/Services phone card inserted in his collar sent rangers a text message. Lesowapir, an armed guard and a driver arrived in a jeep bristling with spotlights to frighten Kimani back into the Ol Pejeta conservancy. [link added

According to the AP story, in addition to the texting, the elephants can be tracked through Google Earth, helping to map and conserve the corridors they use to move from one protected area to another. The technology also can be used to prevent ivory poaching because park managers know where to send resources.

Software helps traditional tracking practices move into the future!

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Thanks, WR, Intro to GIS

Cyber Tracker is downloadable software that can be used on a smart phone or any handheld computer device to record a variety of observations, everything from infected gorillas in the Congo to alleged criminals in the Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. The Cyber Tracker was created by the South African non-profit group, Cyber Tracker Conservation. The software was originally developed to aid semi-literate to illiterate traditional animal trackers in southern Africa. It allows conservationists to record their observations in the field on handheld computers linked to global positioning system, or GPS. The program’s visual components allow non-experts to accurately map any animal’s movements and display using icons and/or text. The software also includes a simple interface for viewing data in tables and charts.

Originally developed in 1996 by CyberTracker Conservation founder Louis Liebenberg and computer scientist Lindsay Steventon, the software continues to improve and is currently running its third edition. The idea for CyberTracker was born while Liebenberg was hunting with the indigenous Bushmen tracker in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa. Liebenberg has been fascinated with tracking since childhood and hopes the CyberTracker will be able to retain much of this traditional knowledge that often times cannot be stored on other, more text based, tracking systems.

It has been used in tracking the spatial distribution of disease for gorillas in the Congo, to plot the migratory patterns of birds in the Kalahari, and is currently being developed for more extensive conservation use in the United States.

For further information, see the article in Wired.

Animal Cemeteries and Genocide: Cutting Edge Applications of Remote Sensing

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

From a student in Intro GIS.

Most people have had some experience with the products of remote sensing, whether it’s looking at satellite images of landscapes or using Google Earth to pinpoint locations. Few realize the potential magnitude of RS applications. McGill geography professor Margaret Kalacska works at the cutting edge of RS, examining the possibility of using the technology to identify clandestine burials. She has conducted fieldwork in sites as far ranging as Costa Rica, but has recently begun expanding her work to a site within the province of Quebec. This research has led her to an animal cemetery at safari park situated near Hemmingford, about an hour south of Montreal, that a McGill university archaeology course is currently excavating.

What do dead elephants and zebras have to do with finding mass graves? Plenty. Very little research has been done using this particular application of RS. While geographers have used LandSat satellite imagery to examine gypsum concentrations in Iraq as a proxy for sand disturbance (and possibly the existence of graves), the region was far too dangerous for them to go in and test their hypotheses. A limited amount of work has also been undertaken in the former Yugoslavia, due to the presence of clandestine burial there. The countries where the need is greatest are frequently those in which it is most dangerous to conduct actual fieldwork. RS reduces danger to the researchers and streamlines the process of data collection – instead of highly subjective informant interviews and site selection, the use of satellite imagery enables researchers to make extremely objective assessments: either a signal is there or it is not.

Learning what kind of “signal” a grave gives off, however, is precisely what the research at Parc Safari is all about. Kalacska has undertaken similar research in Costa Rica by examining cattle burials, and used RS (specifically field spectrometry and aircraft photography) to differentiate between empty graves and graves full of carcasses due to changes in soil chemistry that resulted from decomposition. However, the burials there were at most 16 months old. The burials at Parc Safari go back at least 40 years, which will enable Kalacksa to determine whether a grave “signal” holds constant over a lengthier period, or decays with time. This information will be invaluable in developing technologies that use RS to uncover clandestine graves. It provides just one demonstration of convergences between GIS/RS and archaeology.

animal tracks

Friday, December 21st, 2007

(Written by Intro to GIS student, S. M.)

Tracking animals and their migration patterns has always been immensely important in conservation work. These methods, all the more vital during an age of decreasing biodiversity, are diverse. The main way for tracking animals at the moment is to compile data from various sightings on where the animals have been. But there are problems in this approach. It’s hard to sight small creatures like birds. If an animal is observed, the everyday person cannot always be expected to correctly identify the species. Also, many people can report the same animal. These mis-sightings can skew data analysis.

The other method commonly in use is radio or satellite tracking. This involves a collar or implant being attached to the animal in question. The antenna sends a signal that is received by orbiting satellites, which is then analyzed. This method is much more reliable than the one mentioned above but it is much more expensive to initiate and maintain. Also, the animal to be tracked must be caught and tagged in the first place. In South Africa the Limpopo Wild Dog Project uses this technique to enhance conservation efforts.

A new method of tracking animals is coming into use that involves much more public participation. Many projects are requesting that people send them photos. In many cases scars or various markings can then be used to identify individual animals. Researchers at Save the Manatee use this method, among others. This method is useful because it gets the general public involved in conservation efforts and increases awareness. The one problem with this method was that the location of the animals was not always reported accurately. People failed to remember where they had taken the picture. But a new technology is entering the market that may make this much easier. GPS enabled cameras will allow people to know exactly when and where their pictures were taken. This could make things much easier for researchers and their conservation efforts (more info on GPS cameras.

sustainable management by local people

Monday, December 17th, 2007

(written by Intro to GIS student, C. N.)

As a GIS student who racks his brain over the quarks and particularities of the current softwares used to display spatial data, I would never have envisioned anyone short of a professional creating official maps. Furthermore, I would never have thought possible to map such intangible elements as cultural heritage, and to use such maps to create sustainable management plans for entire regions. Despite my skepticism, this is exactly what has been done for Fiji’s Ovalau Island.

Ovalau is one of Fiji’s largest islands with a population of 9000 and an area spanning ~10 by 13 kilometers. It is characterized by a rich cultural history dispersed throughout the villages that inhabit the island’s rugged landscape. Due to these conditions, any available spatial and resource data prior to Ovalau’s new mapping initiative, was of poor quality (relative to state’s needs) and only available orally through conversations and stories. In January 2005, an initiative using Participatory 3D modeling (P3DM) was implemented. The goal of the P3DM exercise – a derivative of Participatory GIS – was to create physical 3D relief models based upon local knowledge, and to use these models to propose a resource management plan. This methodology would ensure that the voice of local people was heard. After all, the proposed resource management plan would be based on their 3D model.

This is exactly what was accomplished in 2005. Base maps were constructed based on the consultations of 27 separate villages. Following this, students, teachers, elders and individuals trained in natural resource management, cartography, GIS, and community work got together for the construction of the 3D model. Throughout this construction, youth workers did much of the manual labor while elders spoke of the various resources and tales of the land. Based on the created map, the Vanua ko Ovalau Resource Management Plan was proposed and accepted.

Ovalau’s uses of P3DM show tangible real life implications for GIS, not just for the GIS professional, but also for entire communities. We are approaching the point in the semester in Intro to GIS, where GIS terminology and jargon seems to be taking over our brains, and we are wondering how long it will be before we will ever really understand the intricacies of GIS. Despite this, it is important to remember that GIS is not exclusive to those with thousand dollar programs and perfectly constructed data. Ovalau is a prime example of adaptations of GIS to participation. It demonstrates that the world of GIS is not restricted to a computer lab but can be used in entire communities, and that it is not limited to classifying well ordered numerical data but can handle cultural assets and heritage.

Ovalau’s success has also merited a World Summit Award.

undersea sensing a threat to wildlife

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

A start, although I’m skeptical that the ruling will find its way into practice:

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Navy to stop using medium-range sonar in training exercises off Southern California, saying that the Navy’s own assessments predicted that dozens of marine mammals, particularly deep-diving whales, could be harmed by the intense sound waves.

it’s turtles all the way down

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Snapping turtles are fairly widespread, from southeast Canada down the eastern US coast. However, their habitats are quickly disappearing and their aggressive behaviour makes them somewhat problematic to study (especially at night).

A group of biologists computer engineers at the University of Massachusetts have built a hardware and software platform that tracks the movement and habits of snapping turtles. The mobile platform, glued to each turtle (sorry, but it is common practice and can be more humane than radio collars), consists of a GPS unit, a solar panel, and antenna. The platform also contains a USB drive to keep a turtle-specific log of information.

For computer engineers, the idea behind the project is

a network of constantly moving devices that record and store information, transmit data from one device to another, then relay all the saved information to a central location while running on self-charging batteries.

“A lot of the existing technology works great as long as you’re not moving around and you have stable networks and people who could recharge batteries,” said Jacob Sorber, a doctoral candidate in computer science who designed the network he calls TurtleNet, a project funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.

From another site, check out live webcams of turtles, which combines nature and public participation in Japan.