Low-Cost Wildlife Tracking Devices

Mataki tags with size comparisson next to coins

Challenge

Understanding species behavior in space and time is critical to conserve them in the face of environmental change, but tracking technologies are often expensive, inflexible, inappropriate and labour intensive. This limits both the applicability and scale of ecological and behavioural studies.

Acquiring the tools to collect GPS-based spatial and behavioural data can often be unattainable for resource-poor conservationists.

 

Technical solution

Wirelessly enabled, low cost and readily programmable solutions are needed that enable data to be retrieved without recapturing animals or recovering devices, and that allow researchers to modify designs as they require.

A first stage iteration of such a tag, called Mataki, was developed by ZSL, UCL and Microsoft Research. As well as an accelerometer and pressure sensors, the Mataki trackers collect and store very small GPS data packages that very accurately record location. While we have had considerable success with the devices, we have been acutely aware that the devices have been complex for others to flexibly change how the devices are used in the field without support.

ZSL is now collaborating with the Arribada Initiative to develop a next generation logging device, taking advantage of new technologies on the market. The aim is to focus on an ultra low-cost, lightweight GPS logging device to enable the tracking and monitoring of behaviour at very low cost, whilst still be easy to produce and use. Mataki functionality, such as remote download, can be added to this architecture to create the next generation of Mataki tag.

Outcomes

To date these miniature devices have been used in a wide variety of projects from tracking seabirds to monitoring sea turtles, terrestrial carnivore behaviour and sloth bears.  

A suite of Mataki schematics, firmware and applications are available online with video tutorials – offering accessible tools for scientists around the world.

 

What’s Next?

We hope to see the release of an early version of a next generation device during 2018, with production devices in approximately a year. Low-powered wireless connectivity will then be added.

 

 

Project information

People Involved

  • Robin Freeman, Head of the Indicators and Assessment Unit at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL
  • Alasdair Davies, Senior Technical Specialist
  • Rachel Kemp, Project Coordinator: rachael.kemp@zsl.org

Partners and Supporters

  • UCL
  • Microsoft Research
  • Arribada Initiative