Kate on Conservation

Space technology and wildlife conservation


Today is United Nations World Wildlife Day. This year’s theme is “Sustaining all life on Earth”, encompassing all wild animal and plant species as key components of the world’s biodiversity.

The theme aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15; ‘Life below water’ and ‘Life on land’.

In this World Wildlife Day guest blog post, the European Space Agency Space Solutions share three important ways that space technology is being utilised to protect and conserve wildlife populations and their habitats.

By taking a look at three types of space technology: WAMCam, wildlife monitoring projects via satellite data and SISMA: Vulnerability Monitoring System, ESA shows how space technologies could provide ‘a global service for governments’ and have the potential for global scope in protecting and sustaining all life on Earth — a perfect pitch for our World Wildlife Day 2020 theme

The Space Technologies Revolutionising the Way We Protect Wildlife

According to the 2018 Living Planet Report by the World Wildlife Fund, the population of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles has diminished alarmingly by 60% since 1970, with the main cause of this being loss of habitat and environmental degradation. 

Whilst the figures are worrying, thanks to innovative space technology, it’s not all doom and gloom. New ways of protecting and preserving wildlife populations are increasingly being discovered, from satellite navigation and imagery to artificial intelligence. 

Here we explore those innovative space technologies revolutionising the way we protect wildlife

WAMCam: Wildlife Advances Monitoring Camera

Conservationists usually rely on animal and camera traps in order to capture, study and track individual animals. But with the small scale and time-consuming nature of this, it simply isn’t effective enough. 

That’s where WAMCam comes in. The robust, battery-powered cameras include satellite communications and artificial intelligence enabling them to identify different wildlife species.

They can then monitor live animal traps and notify researchers when an animal is found and what species it is. 

Image courtesy: ESA BA

This is a vast improvement on older methods as the data is stored digitally, resulting in better and more reliable research which can then be shared easily all over the world.

With this advanced technology, conservationists are freed from the burden of manually checking traps as they are notified exactly where to go when an animal is found.

This also means that more traps can be set up and in further locations, allowing for more research in the effort to protect the planet’s beautiful wildlife. 

Space Applications for Wildlife

This wildlife monitoring project offers a global service for governments, NGOs, businesses and universities, providing wildlife information such as trends, management advice and crisis prevention plans. 

Image courtesy: ESA BA

This is done by comparing existing and newer satellite data, making it easy to spot trends and changes in order to put together plans for protecting nature and wildlife in the future.

Amongst the data collected is light pollution, quality of animal habitats, land ecosystems and marine ecosystems. 

This is an important piece of space technology because of its potential global scope, meaning wildlife conservation can happen on a much larger scale than before. 

SISMA: Vulnerability Monitoring System

This next monitoring system, SISMA, has already been used to protect reindeer populations in Russia by tracking herds through satellite navigation systems, satellite imagery and Earth Observation. 

This space technology has three uses. The first is to connect the animals with their herders, which leads to a reduction in animal loss and an increase in the number of animals that can be managed at one time.

The next aim is to detect diseases through temperature monitoring, which again leads to a reduction in animal loss and the prevention of diseases spreading.

The last function of SISMA is adapting to climate change, this means working towards securing habitats and food supplies, reducing animal fragmentation, enabling economic development and developing a sustainable hunting method. 

After successfully monitoring reindeer populations in Northern Russia, which is known to be difficult due to weak terrestrial communication, there’s no telling where this space technology will take us next!

In our current climate it’s vital for wildlife conservation that we find innovative and sustainable ways to protect our much-loved animals. 

In order for projects like these to continue running, they need support – which is why ESA Business Applications offers essential funding to businesses utilising space technology. 

About the Author

European Space Agency: Space Solutions help to fund businesses who are using space & satellite data to improve their services. ESA Space Solutions are offering support and funding to companies looking to develop services that tackle environmental crimes using satellite technology. You can find out more about their opportunity here: https://business.esa.int/funding/invitation-to-tender/enviromental-crimes

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