Camera trap system could help fight against poaching
The Zoological Society London (ZSL), whose mission is to promote and achieve the world-wide conservation of animals and their habitats, says it may have taken a step closer to fulfilling that with the development of a new camera, which it calls Instant Detect.Developed in partnership with other companies like Seven Technologies Group, which specializes in security technology and helped train rangers on conservation sites on how best to use Instant Detect devices, ZSL hopes it could help the fight against poaching, as well as the monitoring of endangered and other species.In the last 40 years 95 percent of rhinoceroses have been poached and more than 100,000 African elephants from 2011-2014 have been illegally killed, according to the charity group.Instant Detect is a camera trap system that uses satellite technology to send images from anywhere in the world, according to ZSL Conservation Technology Unit Project Manager, Louise Hartley."It's a camera that we would deploy in the wild, it has to be quite sturdy and it often uses motion triggers, so it will have a passive infrared sensor to detect heat changes, so as an animal or a person walks past an image will be captured, and it's just a great way to get an insight into the wild that you wouldn't be able to do if you were a person," she said.The satellite node uses a Raspberry Pi computer to send the images via the Iridium satellite network, which is a satellite constellation providing voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers and other integrated transceivers.A filter moves across the lens detecting the change from day to night and adjusting the camera accordingly, so it can see in the dark using night vision.According to Hartley, it has two main uses - monitoring and catching poachers."We have a deployment in Antarctica to monitor penguins, so we're getting images back daily to look at the penguin behavior and also look at environmental change in that area," she said.
"We're also using it for anti-poaching purposes to improve security within protected areas. So an alert, an image, would be sent to an operations room and then rangers can then react accordingly to that alert," she added.If an intruder enters a protected area the camera picks that up and sends an alert. It also has magnetic sensors that can pick up cars, guns and even knives, also triggering the alert to local rangers.The Instant Detect box has a camera lens in the middle, surrounded by an LED array used for night-time imagery using infrared flash - "so when it goes off you won't be able to see it, it's not visible to the human eye," said Hartley."We have here the passive infrared sensor, so that's the motion detector, so it detects heat change, so as a person or a species is walking in it will trigger an image to be taken," she added, "you can also set it to timelapse so you can set an image to be taken every four hours or every five hours for example."
The crucial part, though, is how it talks to ZSL's monitors and to local rangers."You have the antenna attached to the top here, and then you would have a battery pack attached to the bottom here. When an image is taken there's a separate unit called the satellite node, and the images are sent via radio frequency to the satellite node and then the satellite node uses the Iridium Satellite Network to send that image to where you need it," Hartley said.Other anti-poaching technologies have come to the fore recently, including the Real-Time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device (RAPID) developed by conservation organization Protect with support from the Humane Society International.DNA analysis, acoustic traps, thermal imaging and improving analytics and mapping are all contributing to the fight against poaching as well.ZSL hopes that Instant Detect could be a crucial addition to that growing arsenal, in what remains a battle with high costs.
The Kruger Park, South Africa's main tourist draw, is one place on the front-line of the battle against a surge in rhino poaching for the animal's horn to meet demand in countries such as Vietnam, where it is a coveted ingredient in traditional medicine.The poaching of rhinos there rose in 2015, although it was on the decline elsewhere in the country.ZSL has limited ambitions for the time being on the device's usage, although they do eventually want to scale up and roll it out even further."For the business aspect of Instant Detect, we're really just using it for conservation purposes, so we'll roll it out to two different sites for anti-poaching or for remote monitoring. A lot of that will be through grant funded, but also we may sell additional systems to four conservation uses," Hartley said."We want to bring in new transmission methods," she added."So as new connectivity is improving around the world, in addition to satellite, we'd also like to have GSM capabilities in there, so when it is available we can send it by mobile networks, because it is a lot cheaper than satellite.""We also want to look at how we can reduce the cost so it is more scalable and do things like improve image quality, so you get a really, really great image which would support evidence for example in prosecutions," she added.ZSL is also focusing on countries where they have resources and man power to follow up on conservation work.