At ZSL, we're developing low-cost tracking solutions to protect threatened wildlife around the world.
Tracking and monitoring endangered species is vital so that we can better understand their behaviour and protect them from increasing threats, such as climate change. But tracking technologies are often expensive, inflexible, inappropriate, and labour intensive. This can have a serious detrimental impact on the applicability and scale of ecological and behavioural studies of threatened species. At ZSL, we're working at the cutting edge of conservation to find solutions to tackle these problems.
How is ZSL finding technological solutions to track wildlife?
If more species are to be protected, 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. Mataki, has a suite of schematics, firmware and applications available online with video tutorials – offering accessible tools for scientists around the world.
While we have had considerable success with the devices, we have been acutely aware that they have been complex for others to flexibly change how the devices are used in the field without support.
We have been collaborating with the Arribada Initiative since 2017 to develop a next generation logging device, called Horizon, taking advantage of new technologies on the market. The aim has been 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. Features such as remote download via Bluetooth and satellite and cellular networks are available.
To date these miniature devices have been used in a wide variety of projects, from tracking seabirds to monitoring sea turtles, ocean plastic and terrestrial carnivore behaviour. Developer kits and guidance can be obtained via the Arribada Initiative website.
What's next for low-cost tagging solutions?
Horizon developer kits are now available for purchase via the Arribada Initiative website. We are seeking further funding to co-develop and deploy these devices for new applications and environments. We are also producing a set of best practise guidelines for GPS tracking for conservationists.
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