How Satellite Technology Can Protect Wildlife
Conservation efforts are increasingly important for protecting wildlife and ecosystems as human interference negatively impacts endangered species.
Traditional conservation practices include time-consuming processes for monitoring biodiversity that utilize excessive resources. However, technological advancements – such as satellite imagery – have delivered sustainable and effective solutions for protecting wildlife.
The Advantages of Satellite Technology for Conservation
In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed over 15,400 species as threatened or endangered.
Developing satellite technologies help researchers understand changes in the environment and wildlife while safeguarding species from the threat of extinction. Here are three important advantages of using satellite technology as a conservation tool.
1. Study Environmental Changes
A recent Pew Research Center study revealed 68% of countries surveyed believe climate change poses a significant threat globally. However, a large percentage of the population has a skewed worldview not based on facts about our warming planet.
Research shows up to half of the world’s species could go extinct by the turn of the century if climate change isn’t addressed.
Ecosystems are gravely affected by climate change. For example, coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. They’re also dying rapidly due to rising sea levels and ocean acidification. When habitats are degraded, ecological consequences could include disease, die-offs, and behavioral, psychological, and genetic changes.
Employing satellite technology allows researchers to analyze the environment, track contaminants in water and soil, and determine whether a particular habitat requires special conservation measures for species to survive.
Satellite imaging is another way scientists can monitor the condition of the environment and discover new species or the reintroduction of species listed as endangered or threatened.
2. Monitor Animals
Every creature on the planet has a unique function and purpose. When species go extinct, the loss can cause a “trophic cascade” on the food chain and affect other species and entire ecosystems.
For example, when Yellowstone Park’s wolves nearly went extinct in 1930, elk and deer grazed on streamside trees until they were almost decimated. This left songbird species without habitats and the streams susceptible to erosion.
When the songbird population eventually disappeared from the area, mosquitoes and pests could multiply in droves. However, with the reintroduction of Yellowstone’s wolf population in 1996, biodiversity also came back.
Scientists use satellite technology to monitor how well species thrive and their migration patterns. Some groups, such as the WAMCam Project, use remote satellite technology to identify animals caught in traps, tag them for further research, and even treat them if necessary.
By monitoring animal species consistently, researchers can understand if their populations are becoming more threatened or are bouncing back and if the surrounding environment is conducive to their success.
From there, conservationists can decide to set new protections or initiatives or let the species modulate itself.
3. Look for Illegal Activity
In wildlife forensics, satellite technology helps uncover illegal poaching activity and protect endangered and threatened species.
Illegal hunting and animal trading for profit are driving factors for the loss of biodiversity. In African countries, for example, elephant ivory, tiger bone, and rhino horns are in high demand for trophies or traditional medicinal lore.
Similarly, exotic animals like cheetahs or monkeys are often kept as household pets. Additionally, 85% of bird species bought and sold are intended as pets.
Satellite technology and artificial intelligence have helped conservationists fight back against poachers in the following ways:
- It allows scientists to develop the largest database of tiger stripes for monitoring poaching in a preserved area.
- Drone cameras use infrared heat to capture real-time images of wildlife and poachers in action at night.
- GPS technology patrols protected areas and predicts poaching hotspots so conservationists can remove the traps before animals are caught and killed.
The Future of Satellite Technology for Wildlife
Future advancements in satellite technology should address shortcomings such as weather-related barriers for capturing clear images. Additionally, satellite-monitored tags could undergo resizing to fit smaller species for more effective surveillance.
Advocacy is the most crucial aspect of conservation initiatives. A solid call for action could set forth better policies and measures for protecting Earth’s most precious species.
Author bio: Jane Marsh works as an environment and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co.