Poachers caught red-handed by the Raspberry Pi

11 Sep 2013

Cambridge Consultants' remote cameras are helping track animals and prevent poaching

Poachers continue to hunt down and slaughter at-risk animals, but wildlife experts have a new tool in their protection arsenal: a network of cameras managed by a Raspberry Pi.

The cameras are left in key spots in the wilderness of Kenya, where they take as many as 30 pictures a day, passing that information back over satellites to England - where it's fed into the Instant Wild app so supporters can help identify animals.

The project is a collaboration between the Zoological Society London (ZSL) - which runs London Zoo - and the Kenya Wildlife Service, and uses kit developed by Cambridge Consultants.

The camera boxes use off-the-shelf hardware, connecting to a central node powered by a Raspberry Pi. We spoke to Richard Traherne, head of wireless at Cambridge Consultants, to find out more about how his firm put it all together.

Q. How does the system work?

A. The way that it's used is they drive out to a remote area and place cameras to observe wildlife or poaching activity. Each of the cameras is connected over wireless back to a central node, which may be hidden - maybe in a tree or a rock or some other place where it can be disguised.

Pictures make their way to that central node which then transmits them over the Iridium Satellite Network, which is a global communication network of 66 satellites that fly around the globe in low-earth orbit, providing a complete coverage of the earth. Over that system, they’re transmitted back to the ZSL's servers in London.

Q. Once the photos arrive in London, what happens to them?

A. From there, the pictures are pushed out to the Instant Wild app, which allows users on their smartphones to observe and then identify species – if they’re unsure what it is, they can look at the field guide on their app.

App

The identification is pinged back to the ZSL's computers, which registers that species as identified at that location. So it's a crowdsourcing mechanism, which is a pretty cool way of ZSL using its supporters to help map out where species are on the planet.

Already they've found species they thought to be extinct in Sri Lanka – which was a mountain mouse deer – using this method.

Q. This camera network is being used to find poachers as well, though?

A. When the project started, the main thrust was animals and conservation, through getting to know where they were and what their movements were. As the project went on, the threat to wildlife has soared... so poaching is now their number one concern.

Q. How can cameras help catch poachers?

A. At the moment, it only catches the picture [as well as a host of other telemetry data about the camera equipment]. But, in the future, there's no reason why it couldn't transmit other things. ZSL has already talked about plans to include other sensing methods, in addition to a picture, using that little network of cameras to detect gunshots, and then potentially triangulating [its position]... and try to work out from that network where the gunshot is coming from.

And also, perhaps [it will capture] vibrations to detect cars in a region where they don't expect them to be. Where there's no rangers in the area, they can raise a suitable alarm.

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