Event /  20 Nov 2018

WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Recording: Next Generation Wildlife Tracking

The second event in Season One of the WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Series was on Next-Generation Wildlife Tracking. The recording is now available to watch, along with notes that highlight the key takeaways from the talks and discussion. In the session, speakers Christian Rutz, Virginie Perilhon, and Jake Levenson shared their work in 10-minute presentations, followed by lively open discussion and community exchange.

Online Event
20 Nov 2018 - this event is in the past.
 Recording Available


The WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Series is a program of webinars for community members and wider partners to discuss emerging topics in conservation technology and leverage existing community groups for virtual exchange. The aim of the series is to bring leading engineers in the tech sector together with conservation practitioners to share information, identify obstacles, and discuss how to best move forward.

The series began in late 2018, to be continued in 2019, and will be hosted on WILDLABS via Zoom. The three topics to be covered in 2018 include Networked Sensors for Security and Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) PreventionNext-Generation Wildlife Tracking, and Big Data in Conservation. The first two topics center around data collection, on wildlife populations through tracking and on protected areas and community boundaries through networked sensors, while the third topic tackles how to most effectively utilize that data.

There is a lively discussion about possible topics members would like to have space to discuss, so if you have ideas for future meetups please join the thread and share your thoughts. 

Meetup 2: Next-Generation Wildlife Tracking

Date & Time

Tuesday, November 20th

Main Talks: 2:00-3:00pm GMT / 9:00-10:00am EST

Additional half hour for discussion: 3:00-3:30pm / 10:00-10:30 EST

Background & Need

Effective wildlife management requires good population data – knowing where, when, and why populations move is key to protecting them. For decades, most wildlife tracking has depended upon trackers that deliver telemetry to the Argos satellite system. While this current system has proven valuable for protecting some species, it has been less practical for others, including many of those in marine environments, and its effectiveness is limited by restrictions in coverage, accuracy, and data capacity. New technologies on the horizon include small satellites like CubeSats, which are being investigated by NASA, the ICARUS Initiative’s recently launched satellite system, and a variety of other ventures aiming to improve the coverage, accuracy, and capacity of wildlife tracking data collection. As most of these innovations are still in the early stages of development or deployment, it is an important time to identify how these distinct efforts fit together while fulfilling different conservation needs.


The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce next-gen wildlife tracking technologies in the context of conservation; to describe how they are being used for conservation, including what needs they are addressing in conservation practice and how different approaches fit together; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these technologies from both field and tech perspectives; and to discuss the future of wildlife tracking tech, including the sustainability of its applications and how best to collaborate moving forward.


Watch the Virtual Meetup

WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Link to Tracking Video Recording

(Click through here to watch the full meetup)

Virtual Meetup Notes

For our second WILDLABS Virtual Meetup, we were joined by nearly 100 attendees from over 15 countries! Thanks to everyone who participated in the live chat and Q&A, and especially to those of you who were able to stay on for the discussion at the end. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm from the first meetup continue into this event, and we look forward to seeing even more participation as the series progresses. For those of you who were unable to join live, we've recorded the session so that you may view it at your convenience. We've shared key takeaways in the notes below.

Speaker: Christian Rutz


About the International Bio-Logging Society

  • Leadership: a highly diverse group with regards to research interests, location, backgrounds, etc.
  • Membership: 600 members across 17 countries, about 200 of which are early career
  • Working groups:
    • Establishing data standards
    • Researching best practice protocols (e.g. ethical considerations in tagging)
    • Education/ training of next generation of scientists
    • Bio-Logging decade – encouraging collaboration on a broad scale
    • Wildlife crime

Recent developments in bio-logging

  • Advanced positional tracking and efficient remote data download (e.g. ICARUS system revolutionizing the way we track animals)
  • Wireless sensor networks proving extremely effective
  • Onboard data processing and event triggering (tags only active when sensing events in the external environment)
  • Video- and audio-loggers as highly useful research tools
  • Assessment of animal physiology
  • Innovative data visualization

Applications from the lab

  • The first application of wireless sensor technology on free-flying bird species

    • Required extremely small tags
    • Utilized ‘Encounternet’ system
    • Able to map the social network of 33 tagged crows – 177,000 interaction instances over 19 days
    • Exciting implications for conservation context

    WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Link to Video Recording

  • Tiny video loggers on animals give a new monitoring perspective
    • So small that they can be easily carried by crows under tail feathers, for example
    • 640x480 pixels (TV quality), 19.7 frames per sec, hold up to 90 minutes of video footage
    • On-board duty cycling allows you to pre-program times to switch on and off
    • Demonstration of just how far the tech has come – clever use of microprocessors and duty cycling allows for incredibly effective data gathering where visual information is useful

Looking to the future: Society investigating the use of bio-logging tech to combat poaching

  • Real-time poaching alert systems using physiological stress as an alarm trigger in tagged animals
  • How it works: stress signal sets off alarm via tag sensor, position of animal established via tag location, data-uplink established through available infrastructure, alerts sent to a ground team to respond in real time
  • The trick is to get this system to work quickly enough to work as an interception tool, looking into using ICARUS infrastructure as one approach

Speaker: Virginie Perilhon


History of Xerius Tracking

  • Since founding in 1999 Xerius has created more than 170 products for industry, military, aerospatial, aeronautics, and more, making them experts in onboard electronic systems
  • Since 2013 the Tracking branch has focused on wildlife tracking solutions - mostly avian and terrestrial so far, but looking to marine applications in near future

Tech solutions

  • Goniometers (partnered with CLS)
    • Purpose: gather data from radio transmitters
    • Can find radio signal angle with 1-degree accuracy
    • Can detect 16 simultaneous platforms at a range of 200kms
  • Alteos – avian transmitters

    • 18g tracker with Argos & UHF, GPS, solar panels and 4 million bytes internal memory (allows 4 GPS fixes per day for 4 years)
    • Download data, get real-time location, update firmware, change parameters etc. remotely from up to 150kms LOS with USB via laptop
    • Behavior and human impact project with a resident bird: 1900+ GPS fixes in 475 days
    • Migratory routes project: 2100+ GPS fixes in 547 days (uploads via Argos)

    WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Link to Video Recording

  • Bioloc – Creating your own network (2016)
    • Purpose: create your own independent network (i.e. not relying on Argos) that uses hybridization and miniaturization of tech to tracking avian and terrestrial species
    • Field trials currently in Morocco, France, and more
    • How it works
      • Trackers - start from 5 grams, GPS fixes every 10 minutes, easily programmable, can switch program daily
      • Receivers - autonomous (thanks to solar panels), omnidirectional, have a range of 63km in field tests so far, can pick up on 240 transmitters at a time
      • Data retrieval – master station sends directly to user laptop via Bluetooth or GSM
      • Range –100 km or more between ground stations
    • Hybridization (GPS/UHF/ACC/Argos compatible) – fully compatible with Argos, so that when animals go beyond your network Argos can take over (free while in your network because you own it)

Current tech limitations

  • Argos currently has only 6 satellites
    • Hard to know when the satellite is coming, so they must repeatedly send data to ensure that it’s received, which is inefficient
    • Argos planning to expand to 20 satellites in the future, which would help
  • Batteries need to be lighter and more efficient
    • Xerius custom makes batteries to fit project needs - currently working on a custom battery for rhino tracking, which is extremely thin and highly efficient
  • Solar panels need to be more efficient
    • Currently, they are about 40% efficient - more innovation needed for improvement

Speaker: Jacob Levenson


  • Personal work with Oceans Forward: helping countries with fewer resources develop cost-effective, open-source tech for conservation and management
  • Professional work with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM): responsible for managing offshore energy in federal waters – need to understand animal movement and behavior
  • Importance of telemetry:
    • Understanding where animals go, what they do, and why they go to particular areas is important across US Federal government agencies and around the world for resource management
    • Increasingly, sensors are being combined with tracking tags, allowing us to also gather information on animals’ internal and external environments

Improved tracking tech vs systems

  • While we’ve advanced tag technologies immensely, we’ve made little progress in advancing the systems we use to collect tag data (with the exception of ICARUS)
  • Challenges with Argos:
    • Proprietary ‘old school’ satellite tech means higher cost and limited geographic coverage, ripe for disruption
    • Challenges exacerbated when tracking marine species: since animals spend most of their time underwater and we have limited satellite coverage, we can only get data to satellites when an animal surfaces AND satellites are overhead at the same time (results in high error rate)

Current Tracking Coverage (Argos) vs Next-Gen Animal Telemetry Vision

Argos: data transmitted to ground stations handful of satellites in orbit, sent to a data processing center to be accessed online

Next-Gen vision: shift to common communication frequency across airborne, ocean, and space assets, including everything from microsats, to weather balloons, to experimental aircrafts.

WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Link to Video Recording

Objectives: reduce location inaccuracies of Argos, increase data pipeline coming off of it by expanding bandwidth

Two-Pronged Strategy:

  • NASA internal engineering expertise – signal characterization
    • Recent example: testing Argos receiver in near-space conditions via balloon to get a sense for how an open-source shared receiver would function (prioritizing compatibility with current tags to leverage existing technology)
  • Crowdsourcing
    • NASA Tournament Lab Next Generation Animal Tracking Ideation Challenge: the aim was to bridge the gap between data science, engineering, and animal telemetry communities ($30,000 in prizes to develop solutions)
      • Submission period just closed, 434 participants from 25 countries, 36 proposals, 20 viable solutions – winner(s) to be announced by December 10th
      • First time BOEM has done anything like this, great for them to be able to leverage NASA infrastructure to benefit animal telemetry

Moving forward

  • Crowdsourcing: additional challenges planned to look more specifically at elements of how a new system could be implemented
  • NASA engineering: testing open-source receivers (software-controlled radios that listen for specific frequencies onboard satellite or microsatellite and transmit back)
    • Tons of satellites out there to leverage (1800 satellites forecasted to be in orbit over next 5 years, 7,000 microsats from SpaceX recently approved) – vision is to get all of these on the same open-source receiver to open up data bandwidth and increase coverage
  • NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative – small satellites can “hitchhike” on re-supply modules to International Space Station to get launched in orbit (note: priority goes to universities that include animal tracking payloads)

Further Reading

Links referenced in the live chat:

  1. Read this case study on the ICARUS system and what it means for wildlife tracking (questions about ICARUS? Message Martin Wikelski through his WILDLABS profile)
  2. See how small the ICARUS tags are compared to ungulate ears
  3. More info on the processes of uplink and sending data for ICARUS
  4. More info on the Motus Wildlife Tracking System
  5. See Yvan’s repository for 3D models of tracking devices
  6. Read more about the NASA/BOEM ideation challenge
  7. Learn about Albin’s work on using solar balloons to monitor wildlife activity

Next Steps


If you attended live or watched the recording, please take this quick survey to give us feedback so that we can improve future events

Join our next Virtual Meetup

Topic: Big Data in Conservation

Date & Time:

  • December 12th, 2018
  • Main talks: 3:00-4:00pm GMT / 10:00-11:00am EST
  • Additional discussion: 4:00-4:30pm GMT /11:00-11:30am EST


  • Dave Thau, Data and Technology Global Lead Scientist at WWF-US  
  • Dan Morris, Principal Researcher, Microsoft's AI for Earth program
  • Sarah Davidson, Data Curator for Movebank


To join, register here: https://wwfus.zoom.us/meeting/register/a2328bfa905130c37c24e00bf0acd2b8

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