Satellite imagery may be the next tool that biologists use to monitor endangered animal populations. The Bronx Zoo-Based Wildlife Conservation Society in New York has now used high-resolution satellite photos, taken from a privately owned satellite called Quickbird, to perform counts of animal populations.
The satellite orbits 450km above the earth, but scientists have been amazed at the clearness of the images. To test the procedure, they used maps produced by Quickbird as it orbited the Bronx Zoo, coupled with land-based photographs that were taken at the same time. Dr Scott Bergen was impressed at the detail, "We're counting individual gazelles in the zoo's African Plains exhibit from a satellite 280 miles up."
Preliminary results show that it may be possible to use the technology to monitor large animals and animals in remote locations by comparing images of the same place taken at different times. This would mean that researchers may not have to capture and radio tag animals, an inefficient process with some species.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is planning on testing the technology further by counting elephants and giraffe in Tanzania, flamingos in South America and elk, bison and antelope in the United States.