11 Ways Technology is Helping to Save Endangered Species

Unchecked human activity has destroyed animal habitats and disturbed the delicate balance of many ecosystems, reducing the populations of many species near the point of extinction. Our roads, farms, factories, pollution and poaching have caused undeniable harm to animals – now it’s time we use the fruits of our progress to help them. Here are 11 fascinating and uplifting ways in which modern technology is aiding the conservation efforts of species that are disappearing all too quickly.

Collecting Gorilla Conservation Data with GPS

(images via: wikimedia commons)

Bushmeat hunting and other threats have pushed the Cross River gorilla, which inhabits the tropical forest of the Nigeria-Cameroon border, to the brink of extinction. Fear of humans has led the remaining gorillas to steep, difficult mountain terrain, which makes it difficult for park rangers and conservationists to track them. Luckily, technology has intervened: the North Carolina Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society have begun using global positioning system (GPS) in order to better understand the distribution of the gorillas in relation to existing habitat and human activity in their area. FIeld trackers can now collect wildlife monitoring data with computers that collect data systematically and automatically map the terrain.

GPS Tracks Tagged Tigers

(images via: physorg.com)

GPS is also being used in a slightly different way, to directly track the movements of tagged animals. Scientists in southern Nepal have fitted an injured wild tiger, which wandered into a tourist resort and was nursed back to health, with a GPS collar. Vets and conservationists released the tiger in the remote jungles of western Nepal and will use the data from its collar to learn more about these tigers’ movements, in the hopes of protecting them from increasing threats from poachers.

Hubble Telescope Identifies Whale Sharks

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Another exciting and surprising application of space technology to animal conservation is the use of Hubble Space Telescope computer software, which is used by astrophysicists to locate stars and galaxies in outer space, to identify the unique markings on the hide of the endangered whale shark. The pattern-matching algorithm of the software can identify individuals’ markings in much the way of a fingerprint, ‘virtually tagging’ each animal without ever disturbing them.

Text Messages Protect Elephants in Kenya

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Those little chips used in some cell phones to store phone numbers and other user information are being used in Kenya to keep endangered elephants from leaving their habitats and entering human civilization, where they tend to cause damage to homes and other structures. In 2008, Save the Elephants fitted a SIM card into the collar of an elephant named Kimani, who frequently ventures into nearby farms, and set up a virtual ‘geofence’ using GPS. Any time Kimani approaches the invisible boundary, locals and conservationists are automatically warned via text message. Similar SIM collars fitted onto other elephants text the position of tagged animals to researchers, allowing them to map entire migration routes.

Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) Tags for Fish

(image via: california hatchery reform)

Four species of endangered fish are getting some high-tech help in the Upper Colorado River with the use of ‘Rifle’, a “passive integrated transponder” (PIT) system that monitors their movements. PIT tags, which are inserted into the fish in much the same way as microchips in cats and dogs, are sensed when tagged fish pass through the Price-Stubb Diversion Dam, allowing researchers to gather priceless information on the migration patterns of species like the Colorado pikeminnow.

Unmanned Planes Spot Arctic Seals

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Cameras mounted on unmanned planes that fly over the Arctic are not only capturing images of declining sea ice – they’re also marking the location of endangered seals. “Because ice is diminishing more rapidly in some areas than others, we are trying to focus on what areas and types of ice the seals need for their survival,” said Peter Boveng, leader of the Polar Ecosystems Program at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Species like bearded, ringed, spotted and ribbon seals rely on sea ice for breeding, resting and a safe haven from predators. The unmanned “Scan Eagle” aircraft is used in conjunction with image recognition software to automate the identification of seals in thousands of images gathered during flights. Such a system can drastically reduce the amount of time researchers must spend tracking the seals.

Desalination Plants Providing Water to Arabian Oryx

(images via: wikimedia commons)

Electronics firm Hitachi is helping to save the endangered Arabian Oryx with fresh water from its solar-powered desalination plants in Abu Dhabi. This beautiful animal was extinct in the wild in the late 1960s due to excessive hunting and has only recently been re-introduced to its natural habitat after successful captive breeding programs. However, it is still in danger, and finding access to fresh water is always a challenge. Hitachi’s desalination unit removes the high salt content found in desert groundwater, feeding the filtered water to waterholes in remote desert areas.

Gene Sequencing Machines Save Tasmanian Devils from Cancer

(images via: wikimedia commons)

Tasmanian devils are in danger because of a disfiguring and almost always fatal cancer called devil facial tumor disease that is spreading through the population of this species like wildfire. Scientists say the disease works like a virus, but actually spread by a whole cancerous cell that developed in a single individual several decades ago. In order to better understand this disease and what they can do to help the notoriously ferocious (yet still incredibly cute) Tasmanian devil, scientists are using gene sequencing machines to determine the genetic diversity of the animals. This technology allows researchers to look at the DNA code of the animals. Using the genetic code found from the initial two animals in the study, the research team has developed a test that costs $150 per animal, down from the $10,000 it originally cost to analyze the complete genome.

Sonogram Spots Grouper in Mangrove Roots

(images via: wikimedia commons)

The Goliath grouper, which can exceed six feet in length, is critically endangered, and scientists need to be able to identify their numbers. This is hard to do when juveniles spend almost the first decade of their lives among the tangled roots of red mangrove trees in the Atlantic Ocean. Today, thanks to sonogram technology, the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) is able to conduct visual underwater surveys that help evaluate the effectiveness of protective measures that have been put into place. The acoustic dual-frequency sonar camera “sees” individual fish with the use of sound waves, regardless of the limited visibility in dark, murky waters.

Websites That Raise Awareness

(images via: wildlife near you)

If everyday people were more aware of threatened species that live practically in their own backyards, would they be more aware of their interactions with those animals and how their own activity affects them? It seems likely, and websites that give animal lovers information about species in their area can definitely help. WildlifeNearYou was developed not with the intention of saving animals, but helping people find out where they can see certain types of animals in any given area. They invite users to upload photos of animals they’ve seen and document their locations. While WildlifeNearYou doesn’t focus specifically on endangered species, it – and other websites like it – has the potential to increase our awareness of the diverse natural world.

Controversial Cloning: A Last Resort?

(images via: sciencemag)

If a species is on the brink of extinction because of human activity, don’t we have an obligation to do whatever is in our power to save them? Many scientists and conservationists say yes – even if that means cloning the last remaining members of a severely endangered species like Africa’s northern white rhinos. In San Diego, a ‘Frozen Zoo’ holds the DNA of over 8,400 species stored at -280F.

Using stem cells to recreate animals without a healthy mating pair is a hotly debated topic; so far, the process has not produced optimal results and many fear that such measures will become a fall-back response to loss of habitat and other problems that cause species to become endangered in the first place.

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