Naturalists can spot one penguin in a crowd
by Alan Harten
June 30, 2008
Boffins from Bristol University have come up with a new technological innovation that allows for the tracking of individual penguins from a distance, avoiding the need to get close to them and disrupt their natural activities.
The new surveillance system can accurately identify the birds from a afar; this in turn means that the penguins do not have to suffer the stress of being captured and electronically tagged to enable naturalists to follow their movements.
The new system is designed to track the size and movements of populations of African penguins on South Africa’s once infamous Robben Island, known for the prison where Nelson Mandela was held.
These days the island is becoming more famous as the natural habitat of the penguins who all carry patterns of black spots on their chests.
These patterns are unique, like fingerprints, which means that each bird is individually identifiable if you can ‘read’ the patterns of spots.
The new system uses specialized cameras that can do just that, identifying every individual bird by its pattern of spots.
This gives scientists the ability to know the identity of any individual bird they are looking at through the cameras.
Scientists are excited at the prospect of being able to use the same biometric ID system on many other animals as varied as leopards and sharks.
The researches believe that this new way to study wildlife will give them the ability to track and research the animals without approaching and disturbing them, giving them the advantage of not distracting the animals from their natural actions.
It will also enable them to target a specific animal, in this case individuals from the 20,000 strong gathering of Robben Island penguins, and then study their movements and lifespan.
This tracking has been tried with limited results before, through basic tagging, but this new system will let the scientists follow individuals in a huge crowd.
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