How Space Technologies are Transforming Wildlife Conservation

The conservation of forests and wildlife is becoming increasingly important around the world due to human interference and the rising number of endangered species.

Currently, many practices involved in the monitoring, tracking and protection of wild animals involve time-consuming, resource heavy processes. New, sustainable solutions for conservation are needed to safeguard wildlife effectively in the current climate.

Projects utilising space technologies such as satellite navigation and imagery and the wireless transmission of data are finding new ways to help protect the health of wild animal populations around the world.

Here, we feature some of the initiatives driving positive change in the sector.

WAMCAM: Monitoring Endangered Species Through AI

The WAMCAM project was originally created to aid researchers studying the native leopard population in Borneo. The process of setting up and checking live animal traps and camera traps in the dense jungle was a long-winded process that didn’t allow for wide scale study.

The solution was the WAMCAM, a battery-powered camera with added AI capabilities to identify the species of animals captured by traps. When an animal triggers a trap, the camera, which is connected to remote devices via satellite, will send a signal to researchers. This allows researchers to only travel through the rainforest when needed and makes tagging and health monitoring more efficient.

Satellite navigation technology can also be used in areas with decreased visibility to locate traps across a wider area for more extensive studies on animal population.

All the information gathered is stored digitally, resulting in clearer, more reliable research data to be shared globally.

Space Applications for Wildlife

This project provides a global service for the monitoring of wildlife habitats and nature around the world. Designed for governments, NGOs, businesses and universities, the project delivers regular wildlife trend reports, wildlife management advice and crisis prevention plans.

The project uses existing data collected by satellites monitoring the earth to provide reports on habitat quality around the world. By comparing historical data from the satellites to current satellite imagery, trends and changes can be detected and plans put in place for the protection of natural habitats.

Light pollution, land ecosystems, marine ecosystems and the quality of animal habitats can all be tracked by this innovative technology. One of the main benefits of this, is that it can be used in any location.

SISMA: Monitoring Domestic and Wild Herds

The SISMA project has been created with herders and agricultural state agencies in mind. One element of this project works to protect the reindeer population in Russia. Due to weak terrestrial communications in Northern Russia, the scheme utilises satellite navigations systems, Earth Observation and satellite imagery to track herds. This technology has the aim of reducing animal loss, preventing disease and managing habitats through remote, accurate monitoring.

The project includes a collar system connected to a mobile app to inform herders of their animals’ location and check for disease via temperature monitoring and alerts.

There is also a ‘disease channel’ for veterinarians to share early warning signs for diseases. The final element is the ‘data centre’ which collects current and historical statistics for further analysis, accessible via cloud services.

Funding Conservation Projects

Finding new, sustainable ways to protect endangered species and monitor the health of wild animals around the world is crucial.

For projects such as these to become more wildly accessible, they need support and funding from governments, local authorities and commercial stakeholders.

These projects have all received essential funding from ESA Business Apps.


The European Space Agency (ESA) is an international organisation which organizes European space programs to find out more about the Earth, our solar system and the Universe. ESA is dedicated to encouraging investment in space research and satellite-based technologies and services for the benefit of Europe and the rest of the world.

The European Space Agency: Business Applications (ESA-BA) offers zero-equity funding, access to their network and project management advice to any business looking to use space technologies for new services.

To discover more projects they’ve helped grow, head over to the ESA-BA funding page.

The Bioethics of Wildlife Intervention

A young springbok prancing in the air, a behavior known as “pronking.” Photo via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

A one-day-old springbok rises on his gangly legs — the shriveled umbilical cord still dangling from his ventrum — and begins to boing around his new surroundings. There is plenty to discover in the vast African bushveld, which he proceeds to do with reckless abandon.

Suddenly, a group of jackals saunters from behind an acacia tree and one of them seizes the “bokkie” by the neck. Within seconds, a game reserve employee dashes out of his safari vehicle to shoo away the jackals, gingerly picks up the injured springbok, and races to the wildlife clinic. Thankfully, no puncture wounds are detected, only bruising — the bokkie is later returned to the original site. The veterinarian waits from afar, hoping the youngster will rejoin his springbok herd.

Adult male sable antelope (Hippotragus niger). Photo via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

A month later, an adult male sable is seen hobbling on three legs due to a severe hoof infection. Darting supplies and medications are loaded onto a helicopter, from which the sable is safely anesthetized. After sedation is achieved, the hoof is examined and subsequently treated with saline flush and antibiotics. A reversal drug is then injected into the thigh muscle, upon which personnel are instructed to vacate the premises expediently. Meanwhile, the veterinarian remains on-site to verify the antelope’s full recovery.

Clearly, there is never a dull day in wildlife medicine. As an aspiring wildlife veterinarian who plans to pursue conservation medicine, I have frequently encountered this bioethical issue in both my academic studies and fieldwork. The aforementioned circumstances were experiences I witnessed during my summer in Namibia, where I was conducting research and shadowing the resident veterinarian on a wildlife reserve. Although these individual scenarios involved many factors worth analyzing, the veterinarian plays a prominent role in each situation, often deferred to for coordinating the remedial actions taken and their outcomes.

The aftermath of the above scenarios: the sable gradually improved post-treatment, whereas the springbokkie was never seen again — and thus, presumed dead.

That begs the question: Was it right for the employee to painstakingly pluck the baby springbok from his herd after being attacked by jackals? Were his actions compassionate or officious? Although the infant was promptly returned, it was possible the bokkie was rejected from his herd since the human handling had now covered him in foreign scent. After failing to be adopted back into the group, he was left vulnerable to the pesky jackals once more.

As health care professionals, veterinarians are uniquely positioned to address complex ethical issues involving human, animal, and ecosystem health — a concept aptly known as “One Health.” This initiative governs the core of conservation medicine and reflects the interrelationship and transdisciplinary approach needed to ultimately ensure the wellbeing of all.

The history of human-wildlife relations has experienced some challenges and backlash, but handling these interactions involves balancing valid concerns, prioritizing values, and adopting a hybrid perspective. We regularly wrestle with whether our actions are restorative or destructive, and reflect on a track record of gratifying wins and unsavory losses to learn from. Given our substantial roles in the fate of conservation, it is imperative to debate the significance of interventional efforts and whether they can be rationalized.

While the veterinary profession certainly paints a noble picture of treating injured and sick animals, conducting mass rescues, and mitigating human-wildlife conflict, the interventional aspect entailed in all these tasks suggest, to some, the controversial idea of “playing God.” Are the measures taken regarded as dutiful obligation or self-righteous interference?

On a more abstract level, such apotheosis is inevitable for any professional practicing contemporary medicine. However, the hubris of playing God is arguably heavier for veterinarians since more stakeholders fall within their jurisdiction. As an arbiter for animals, humans, and the environment, veterinarians are constantly confronted with clinical decisions involving life and death and must calculate the associated risks and benefits for multiple constituents. Tampering with the system may result in inadvertent consequences. Conversely, just because resources are available does not necessarily mean they should be used.

Though many have applauded scientific achievements such as GMOs, assisted reproductive technologies, and instrumental surveillance, others have perceived these fields as an exercise of human dominance. The idea of wildlife intervention engenders similarly conflicting sentiments. When physicians and scientists employ these seemingly “unnatural” methods, public fear arises around their potential negative — albeit unintended — consequences. Such discomfort may reflect an underlying mistrust of science and technology in favor of a powerfully unpredictable force of nature as the ultimate source of authority. When working on a free-ranging wildlife reserve that actively promotes conservation, there are various instances in which human intervention is utilized, sparking discussion of the decision-making principles that are applied and the degree of success achieved.

On one hand, the “Circle of Life” argument is commonly cited against wildlife intervention. Such critics support a laissez-faire policy that enables Mother Nature to take her course. Any meddling on the veterinarian’s part would thereby violate this principle. Despite one’s desire to aid the patient and provide necessary care for its survival, that may interfere with the operative principle of natural selection. In retrospect, with the bokkie case, a passive approach may have been best. Simply put, there are predator species and prey species; animals must eat to survive, and we cannot disrupt this instinct.

However, the “Circle of Life” argument fails to extend to veterinary work conducted with domestic pets — namely, preventative medicine. For example, routine vaccination protocols that keep our companion animals healthy are also employed in wild animals to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. If an emerging disease threatens an epidemiological crisis — especially if the pathogen is zoonotic, i.e. can be transmitted between animals and people — this must be addressed on a population level to prevent a mass mortality event.

Generally, the guideline regarding wildlife intervention is to act when the problem presented is due to human impact. Whether it’s gunshot wounds, lead toxicity, or hit-by-car cases, we are obligated to treat accordingly. We bear a responsibility to rectify anthropogenic consequences wrought on wildlife, simply because we caused them. Moreover, other factors warrant intervention, particularly if there is monetary value attached to a certain animal or species in need of saving. In fact, this factor supported the decision to intervene with the adult sable, who was one of three males on the entire reserve. For the purposes of his health and tourism value, treating this sable was deemed permissible.

As stewards and advocates of nature, we understand the precautionary principle of playing God, its inextricable social and ethical implications, and the requisite, evidence-based risk management of any impending decisions. While there is no absolutism with these difficult situations and exceptions can occasionally be made, moral reflection, consideration of all stakeholders, and development of our own self-knowledge may help us navigate this complex terrain.

This post is written by Elvina Yau and was originally published on Mongabay on October 8, 2018.


Elvina Yau, class of 2020, is a veterinary student from Long Island, New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 with a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience and double minor in Creative Writing & Biology. Elvina aspires to split her time between practicing Companion Animal Medicine in the U.S. and contributing to conservation efforts abroad both as a clinician and freelance photojournalist.

Diseases are Wild! A Zoo Pathology Summer Experience

Pathology is a branch of medicine related to the study of diseases, pathogens, and their effects on the afflicted animals. Pathologists can play an important role in many aspects of animal health, including detecting infectious diseases in farm animals, revealing details about animal abuse cases, and elucidating the origin cell type of a tumor from a biopsy. Some pathologists investigate diseases in wildlife species, many of which are influenced in some manner by anthropogenic factors.

For the past few summers, I have worked as a research assistant for the Zoological Pathology Program, a research and diagnostic laboratory of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. This laboratory mostly operates in conjunction with the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, John G. Shedd Aquarium, and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The Zoological Pathology Program also provides diagnostics for a large number of local, national, and international conservation organizations. The faculty of pathologists in this lab are world-renowned experts in their field and serve as lead pathologists for various Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs and conservation initiatives around the globe. I am interested in the key role that pathology can play in zoo management and wildlife conservation. You can imagine, then, that I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work in this lab.

Throughout the three summers during which I worked in this lab, I had a wide variety of responsibilities and experiences. This work involved cataloging their extensive collection of research samples, performing molecular biology research, and observing and assisting with necropsies.

I was involved in two major research projects through the Zoological Pathology Program. One of these projects involved parasitic agents that can infect passerine, or perching, bird species. Detection of this specific infectious agent can play a particularly important part in conservation efforts involving reintroduction of captive birds, specifically the Bali Mynah. Using a diagnostic tool developed by the lab, I worked on a project aimed at determining the shedding patterns of the pathogen. The results will allow us to determine the most efficient and effective protocol for diagnostic sampling.

The other major project was a collaborative study with the Shedd Aquarium’s Microbiome Project. We investigated the efficacy of various aquarium tank disinfection techniques on the maintenance and control of atypical Mycobacteria.  Mycobacteria are common pathogens in aquatic systems and can cause fatal infections in fish. The goal of this research was to determine which disinfection techniques were better at decreasing overall loads of Mycobacterium sp. in the aquarium environment and if those disinfection techniques also altered levels of normal beneficial bacteria within these environments.  These research projects not only improve our understanding the fundamental nature of these pathogens, they also can be used as a guide to inform animal care and prevent sometimes-devastating disease outbreaks in both captive and wild populations.

In addition to those two projects, I was given the opportunity to observe and assist with necropsies of both captive and wild animals. Necropsies are the animal equivalent of forensic autopsies in humans. Although some of these necropsies (particularly those of wildlife animals) involve investigating potential criminal activity, most of the necropsies performed for zoo and wildlife animals aim to uncover infectious or management-related disease. Zoo necropsies serve to help prevent the spread of infectious disease within a zoo population, and to inform management practices to ensure optimal animal health. Information we learn about zoo animals can also inform our understanding of disease in their wild counterparts.  During my time with the Zoological Pathology Program, I participated in necropsies of various captive mammal, bird, reptile, fish, and amphibian species.  I also assisted with necropsies involving long-term seasonal assessment of disease in wild fish and reptile species in various lakes and parks. This type of study can reveal geographical patterns of disease prevalence and can potentially uncover trends associated with anthropogenic changes to the local environment.

It is our duty as animal health professionals to better understand problems to which humans contribute and to minimize their effects on wild populations. I am extremely grateful for my experiences at the Zoological Pathology Program, and I am excited to pursue a career in anatomic pathology!


Carmen Smith is a current Cornell veterinary student (class of 2021) and Cornell undergraduate alumnus from the suburbs of Chicago.  He plans to pursue a career in zoo and wildlife pathology. He is interested in wildlife and public health, and hopes to work at the intersection of disease and conservation.

Dinner Event: Careers in Wildlife Conservation, Zoo, and Exotic Medicine

When: Wednesday, August 29th, 5:00-6:30pm
Where: Lecture Hall 5, the vet school
At this event, you will have the opportunity to hear from and interview some of the world’s top experts, spanning the fields of zoological and exotic medicine, wildlife health policy, and reproduction. Come prepared with questions!
Dinner will be served for the first 50 people–RSVP here

Event: “Every Picture Tells a Story: How to Create Visual Stories in the Field”

What: ZAWS be hosting David Brown, an award-winning cinematographer, to teach a course in wildlife photography/cinematography and visual storytelling, including its importance in wildlife conservation. The course will be taught in two 2-hour sessions.  To get the most out of the course you should attend both lectures, but if you can only attend one that is okay.

When: April 10th and April 18th, 6-8pm

Where: Lecture Hall Floor, the vet school

Dinner will be served.  Sign up here

Event: Avian Soft Tissue Surgery Lab

ZAWS has an exciting opportunity to learn about Avian Surgery in another hands on  lab! The event will include a demonstration by Dr. De Matos followed by the opportunity for students to practice suturing, incisions, biopsies, placing esophagostomy tubes, toe amputation, celiotomy, and so much more!

Due to limited space and resources, unfortunately the lab will only be open to the first 20 dues-paying second, third, and fourth years.

Please wear scrubs/lab coats and bring gloves and your dissection kit!

Sign up through the email notification on the ZAWS listserv.

When: February 1st, 5:30-7:30pm

Where: Belinski Wet Lab, vet school

EVENT: WILDLIFE HEALTH DAY (time and location updated)

During this 1st annual event, ZAWS will be bringing a selection of diverse speakers, lecturing on topics ranging from the role of reproduction in conservation, the effects of plastic on biodiversity loss, and the importance of nutrition for wildlife conservation.

Featuring Keynote Speaker: Dr. Sharon Deem, Director of the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine

Veterinary Medicine in the Anthropocene Epoch:

The lecture will focus on the current challenges of the 21st century: minimizing the loss of biodiversity, feeding 7.6 billion people without causing too much harm to the planet, and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change on animal health. The lecture will be from the perspective of a wildlife veterinarian and her 20+ years of working on free-living wildlife health issues and with zoo collection animals at AZA accredited zoos. Dr. Deem will share stories from her work with elephants in Asia and Africa, turtle species from all over the world, and disease issues at the livestock–wildlife interface. Dr. Deem will also showcase what a veterinarian starting out can do for One Health.


Other speakers include:

Mariah Beck
Jason Sifkarovski
Zack Dvornicky-Raymond
Dr. Sara Childs-Sanford
Dr. Elizabeth Buckles
Dr. Robin Radcliffe

This lecture series will be followed by dinner and the keynote presentation.

Date and Time: Saturday, February 10, 2018, 12:30pm to 8pm

Location: Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine Atrium

Register here or through the email sent out on the ZAWS listserv.


2017 Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) Conference in Chiapas, Mexico

Passing under el Árbol de Navidad, the most unique of Cañón del Sumidero’s seasonal waterfalls.

This past summer, I received a grant from Cornell’s Student Chapter of the Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) to travel to the WDA 66th Annual International Conference in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico. The Wildlife Disease Association was founded in 1951 by a group of scientists from US and Canada with the mission of acquiring, disseminating, and applying knowledge of the health and diseases of wild animals with respect to their biology, conservation, and interaction with humans and domestic animals. Although the United States contributes about half of its membership, the remaining members hail from all around the world, and the annual conference provides a venue for them to meet, exchange ideas, and present updates on their latest research. For me, it was an incredible opportunity to both learn about, and meet experts in, the field I hope to enter.

Second year vet student Kristie Schott class of 2020) holds a ball python during a Zoo and Wildlife Society (ZAWS) wet lab at Cornell.

Aside from a few keynote speakers, the conference mostly consists of short thematically grouped 18-minute presentations interspersed with coffee and snack breaks, during which time attendees have the opportunity to view the posters, which change daily. The volume of information was staggering – over the course of the conference, there were nearly 100 talks given and an equal number of posters presented. Since the WDA is not strictly a veterinary organization, but rather highly interdisciplinary, their meetings bring together veterinarians, wildlife management agencies, and researchers specializing in a wide range of topics pertinent to wildlife health. This fact was clearly reflected in the sheer breadth of topics covered in the talks and poster presentations, which ranged from pathology to evolutionary genomics, and from disease ecology modeling to reports on disease outbreaks and their implications for management and conservation. Speaking as someone interested in clinical zoo medicine, wildlife medicine, and wildlife disease research but unsure what form a career combining those focuses might take, this helped expand my awareness of the many approaches to studying and safeguarding wildlife health.

Another notable feature of the WDA is that it is remarkably student-friendly. A full day of the proceedings at each conference is dedicated to student talks and posters, and the WDA offers several student prizes and travel grants to recognize students’ achievements and support their participation in the conference. They also held a student-mentor mixer after dinner at the end of the first day, although without a clear way to tell who was a student and who was a mentor, I’m not sure if it was ultimately any more helpful than all the other less formally organized opportunities to mingle. Then again, as a fairly reserved and introverted person, I tend to struggle to take full advantage of those kinds of networking opportunities – what if I introduce myself and then can’t think of anything to say? How awkward that would be! Thankfully, the senior WDA members were generally quite friendly and eager to meet fresh faces.


Built in the 16th century, la Catedral de San Cristóbal overlooks the city’s main square, known as the Zócalo, as well as the Plaza de Paz.

Given its location, the conference also offered an opportunity to visit a beautiful place and catch a glimpse of its vibrant culture. This didn’t come without a price – I had to take three flights, sprint through the Mexico City airport at 7am to make a connection, and catch a bus from Tuxtla Gutierrez up into the mountains before finally setting foot on the cobbled streets of San Cristóbal – but it was well worth the journey. Located high in the mountains of the state of Chiapas, San Cris, as the locals call it, is considered the cultural capital of the region and features a large artisans’ market showcasing the richly colored textiles the area is known for as well as multiple museums dedicated to textiles and traditional local dress, chocolate, Mayan medicine, amber, and jade. Politically speaking, the city’s culture has also been influenced by the ideology of the Zapatista uprising and the movement’s charismatic spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos. On New Year’s Day in 1994 – the day NAFTA went into effect – the city, along with several nearby municipalities, was seized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and although the Mexican army quickly regained control of the region, the Zapatistas used the uprising as a platform to raise global awareness of their agenda, which called for increased democratization of the Mexican government and indigenous control of local resources, particularly land. The group’s focus has since shifted from military action to civil resistance and politics, and local attitudes seem to remain sympathetic to the movement with a strong ethic of respect for indigenous rights clearly demonstrated in the numerous politically-minded cafes with posters of Zapatista quotes on their walls and shops sporting sign reading, “We respect indigenous rights – do you?”

One of a pair of spider monkeys placed in the canyon as part of a ZOOMAT conservation project.

Aside from its indigenous cultures, Chiapas is known for its natural beauty and biodiversity. The state boasts over 11,000 species, including 140 fish, 109 amphibians, 227 reptiles, 694 birds, 206 mammals, and 6.5% of the world’s butterfly species. The landscape, for its part, is speckled with beautiful mountain vistas, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.  Sadly, I didn’t have enough time San Cris to experience much of this bounty, but thanks to the WDA’s tradition of inserting a field trip day into the middle of the conference, I did get to visit the spectacular Cañón del Sumidero.  Carved out by the Grijalva River, which travels 8 miles through the canyon’s vertical walls, Cañón del Sumidero is 1000 meters deep at the walls’ highest points, features several unique waterfalls, and is home to 4 protected species of fish, 12 protected reptiles, 195 species of birds, and 53 species of mammals. Depicted on the state’s coat of arms, the canyon is also a significant location in the culture and history of the region. The local Chiapanecas people resisted Spanish conquest for many years, and legend has it that when their last mountain stronghold had fallen, the remaining survivors retreated to the canyon and jumped from its highest point rather than risk being captured and enslaved. However, in spite of its ecological and cultural significance and its protected status as a National Park, the canyon is plagued by pollution with agricultural waste, sewage, and trash, particularly in the rainy season when runoff from heavy rains sweeps garbage from the streets of nearby cities into the river. On our way back through the canyon, we stopped at a bend in the river where the currents caused much of the trash to accumulate, choking the river in a massive tangle of plastics and driftwood. While our guides used this as a teachable moment to emphasize the importance of curbing pollution to protect natural places like the canyon, their lesson stopped at “be sure to dispose of your waste in the proper receptacle” with no mention of ways to reduce waste generation in the first place. Many people rely on disposable plastic water bottles when travelling, but there are ways to use reusable bottles while still ensuring that the water is safe – boiling water, for one, or using water treatment drops, as I did. While such alternatives may not be accessible to everyone, I think raising awareness of their existence is still an important component of conservation programming.

I highly recommend attending the WDA Annual International Conference to anyone who has the opportunity to do so. And while it’s definitely worthwhile to attend as a student even if you don’t have any research to present, I would also encourage anyone on the fence about submitting an abstract to go for it! Although our student WDA chapter offered a total of 4 grants to attend the conference, only 3 people applied, and, of those 3, I was ultimately the only one to attend the conference, which I think serves as a reminder that sometimes – maybe not often in this field, but sometimes – our biggest obstacle to taking advantage of an opportunity is submitting the application. I know I sometimes shut myself out of opportunities by telling myself that I’m unqualified or not ready and never applying, and maybe some of those times I’m right. But then again, maybe I’m not, and I’ll never find out if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and give myself a chance. The next conference will be August 5-10, 2018 in St. Augustine, Florida, and abstracts are due by March 1st. I hope to see some of you there!


A member of the class of 2020 at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Kristie grew up outside of Boston, MA and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2014 from Princeton University, where she concentrated in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and was first exposed to the field of wildlife disease research. She aspires to pursue a career combining clinical zoo and wildlife medicine with research on the ecology and epidemiology of diseases affecting her patients’ free-ranging populations.

Challenges in Livestock, Wildlife, and Human Health in Communities near Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

What: Megan Lee will be presenting on her experience working in Uganda through Expanding Horizons.  She will be making Ugandan curried potatoes, beans, rice, and chicken stew.  You can RSVP here.

When: Thursday, November 2, 6-7pm

Where: S1-222 in the vet school