Product development firm Cambridge Consultants is helping conservationists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) – protect some of the world’s most rare and endangered species.
As part of the Instant Wild project, new satellite-connected and motion-triggered cameras are beaming near-real-time images of animals from the remotest areas of Africa. A mobile app allows users anywhere in the world to view the photos and immediately identify the animals by cross-checking with the field guide provided in the app. At the same time, the system provides early warning of illegal poaching activity, as well as evidence for prosecutions.
Patrick Omondi, deputy director of wildlife conservation at KWS, said: “This technology will enable us to make a significant breakthrough in our day-to-day work with endangered species. We manage around eight per cent of the total land mass of Kenya – and these cameras will be critical in helping us monitor the wellbeing of rare animals and ensure their habitats remain protected from poachers. Through our work with ZSL and Cambridge Consultants, we want to help raise awareness of vulnerable species and the risks they face every day.”
The system harnesses the capabilities of a range of technologies – including the versatile Raspberry Pi micro-computer. The cameras can run on a single battery, and they use LED flash lighting to work at night as well as during the day. The captured images are sent back over the Iridium satellite communication network – 66 low earth orbit satellites that represent the only commercial satellite system with full coverage of the globe.
“One of our aims is to stop the killing of animals on a daily basis by poachers,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation programmes at ZSL. “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.
“We are installing cameras in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park to create a safety net of eyes and ears to protect threatened wildlife – and contribute to the efforts of cutting poaching there significantly in the next two years.”
Richard Traherne, head of wireless at Cambridge Consultants, said: “The challenge was to create a remote monitoring system that was robust enough to withstand extreme weather conditions and animal attacks, and could be easily hidden in any surroundings – all within the available budget. The vital importance of the conservation project gave us a valuable incentive to come up with an innovative new system that could help ZSL in its mission.”
Once the system has been installed in Kenya, there are plans to extend it to cover locations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Himalaya and the South Pole.
Facts & figures
- One rhino is killed every 11 hours in Africa due to the demand for products made from rhino horns. There are just 539 wild rhinos today in Kenya – compared with the 20,000 that existed in 1969.
- Funding for the Instant Wild programme has included donations via the Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
- The Instant Wild project won a £500,000 Global Impact Award from Google earlier this year.
- ZSL runs conservation programmes in more than 50 countries, as well as London and Whipsnade zoos.