New technology will help scientists to better conserve endangered species
Scientists from Earthwatch have developed ground-breaking technology that will enable large numbers of endangered animals to be monitored without being captured.
Earthwatch scientists on Robben Island, South Africa, conducting population surveys on African penguins and other seabirds to determine their breeding success, have designed a revolutionary system which can detect and ‘recognise’ individual penguins as they pass remote cameras.
The penguin population on Robben Island numbers almost 20,000 birds, but conventional tagging techniques can only monitor a small percentage of the population. The Penguin Recognition Project works by ‘recognising’ and ‘extracting’ the spots of penguins whose chests are visible in video sequence.
The system offers a non-intrusive means of collecting real-time data on the activity and movements of individual penguins. It helps to avoid the use of invasive banding of individual penguins.
Earthwatch scientist Peter Barham, Professor of Physics at the University of Bristol, says, "Once achieved, these systems will revolutionise the precision, quantity and quality of population data available to ecologists and conservationists. There will also be an animal welfare benefit since there is no need to expose the animals to the stress of capture, or side-effects of being marked."
Robben Island lies in the middle of major shipping lanes. In 2000, 13,000 penguins were 'oiled' on the island. On Earthwatch's South African Penguins expedition, scientists Drs Les Underhill, Robert Crawford (Marine and Coastal Management) and Peter Barham (University of Bristol) are monitoring the island's seabirds to help reduce the impact of future spills.
Earthwatch has been supporting the penguin research on Robben Island since 2001. The African penguin is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List 2007.