Scientists from the University of Bristol have introduced a novel method of monitoring wild animals which enables researchers to gather population data without having to capture and tag individual animals. The capture and tagging of animals can cause them undue stress and may interfere with their ability to evade predators, find mates, or capture prey.
The new technique side-steps these ills by placing a sophisticated camera system into the animal's habitat. The system collects images of animals as they pass by and then sends the data to a central server for analysis and archiving. Individuals can be identified by comparing visual data among the captured images and estimates of the population size can be constructed from the captured data.
The new camera system was installed on South Africa's Robben Island as part of the Penguin Recognition Project. Since African penguins have unique chest patterns and these chest patterns do not change throughout the adult life of the bird, they make good candidates for visual recognition monitoring. The Penguin Recognition Project enables scientists to fine tune the new monitoring system. When complete, this technology can be used to monitor a wide range of species who possess patterns unique to each individual. This includes butterflies, whales, zebras, and sharks
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Photo © R. Sherley / Penguin Recognition Project. African Penguin passing by camera system.