Remote cameras help combat poachers and allow mobile app users to track rare animals in the wild.
The Raspberry Pi micro-computer has found another use; helping conservationists save some of the planet’s most endangered species.
Product development firm Cambridge Consultants is helping conservationists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), to use the hardware to monitor rare animals and have further insight into the lives and habitats of these species.
As part of the Instant Wild project, the 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 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.
"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.