How Technology can help in the Fight for Conservation

While technology, or the rapid advancement of it and subsequently growth in population at an alarming rate, is one of the root causes of endangered animals being endangered, it is also one of the most valuable tools in the conservation efforts to save these animals. Some people might think that technology may be more of a hindrance than a help with conservation efforts, but it has also aided in the ability to save the animals in ways that most people take for granted.

Before the invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS), conservation field workers had to tag animals with physical tags, usually punctured through the ear, to track endangered animals. This required either a pair of binoculars to check on the animals or, at the least, close proximity to the animal and great eye sight. The problem with this was that, to track the animals, you had to be in their habitat with them. Not all of the animals that are endangered are the nicest of beings to humans, especially when they feel threatened, and a human getting close enough to read an ear tag would indeed make an animal feel threatened. On top of feeling threatened, for a human presence to be in the wildlife that these animals call home could influence the patterns that they would normally stick to in the wild. This can be of no consequence, but it can also be damaging to the conservation effort if too drastic a change occurs.

Now that GPS has been invented and is in wide use, the field operatives only need to be in the habitat with the animals for long enough to tag the animals. After that, the animals can be tracked, all of the ones that are tagged, by means of a computer. Data coming in from migration patterns, hibernation patterns (in those that hibernate), hunting grounds, breeding grounds, etc. is much faster, and thus the conservation effort takes a huge step in the right direction. In my research, I found that OxLoc Ltd., an Oxford University spin-out company, has created a unique, miniature GPS-GSM module that is being fit into the collars that already exist in the field, thanks to a company called Televilt. This partnership will upgrade the GPS collars giving them better performance, more tracking reliability, as well as cost effectiveness.

One of the biggest ways that technology helps the endangered animal conservation efforts is through the media. The media will be able to tell people world wide which animals are extinct, which organizations are doing something about it, as well as which research organizations are currently accepting donation money. The last point is important because, especially in the Wildlife Conservation effort, knowledge is power. To gain the power of knowledge, you need research, because research causes knowledge, which leads to the point of research costing money. In the days before the Internet and the wire transfer became staple items, the companies had to wait for checks that were “in the mail”. In the technology driven world of today, money is transferred almost instantaneously. This results in the money getting to the people that need it much faster than before, and this improves research times, getting new technology into the field much faster than before.

As I mentioned before, public awareness is a great benefit technology has provided the conservation effort with. I remember in the 1970’s, every Saturday on the television was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which was a show about the trials and tribulations in nature, including man’s influence and the endangerment and possible extinction of some animals. In the 1980’s, when cable television became prevalent, this was joined by National Geographic television shows (incidentally, they have their own cable channel now). It has gotten to the point where the media is interviewing experts in the field. In the near future, PBS television will be airing a program called: “A Life in the Wild: Conversation with George Schaller” (information courtesy of Ball State University at http://cms.bsu.edu/Features/Global/MakinganImpact/IndianapolisPrize.aspx). George Schaller has spent more than fifty years in the field studying such endangered animals as the Tibetan antelope, giant pandas and Serengeti Lions. This amount of time in the field with the conservation effort has made him an expert.