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SOS Rhino : In the News : Articles : SO WHY DO I SPEND A LITTLE TIME AND MONEY ON THE SABAH PROGRAM?
 
The following article was submitted by Tom Frazier. Tom first heard of SOS Rhino's Borneo Project through our Scientific Director, Dr. Petra. He has a particular interest in animal behavior for its insights into human behavior and evolution. Tom's interest was first primates, after that, elephants, which got him interested in bioacoustics because of what it tells us about elephant communication - maybe even language. Tom thought that if infrasound or sies mic communication was used by rhinos, it would be important to their conservation since they are so rare and widely spaced that they might need long-range communication to find breeding partners.

Tom lives in Europe and the US and runs several businesses specializing in aeroplane and racing car technology. According to Tom, "Supporting field friends gives me an excuse to buy and play with interesting new technotoys and to visit field projects. So I look for, and occasionally buy and donate equipment".

SOS Rhino wishes to thank Tom for the many items that he donated to our Borneo project. To name a few: Rack Tracker Digital game monitor camera, Digital Audio Tape recorder, Avisoft Vocalization Program, Sony Handycam Digital Video Camera........the list goes on.

THANK YOU TOM


SO WHY DO I SPEND A LITTLE TIME AND MONEY ON THE SABAH PROGRAM?
By: Tom Frazier

When I met field researchers in Tanzania, I realized how much trouble they had with their technical tools, and also how much rapidly developing technology could benefit them. Most field researchers are biologists, and not particularly trained or skilled in technology - and they are out in the bush. As a "technofreak", this had always been my talent and interest and I was better informed than they could be. Also I subscribe to several science journals as a hobby. Since I live in Europe and the States, and am in constant web contact, I can easily do many investigations of new ideas in my spare time, and network with the specialists on the leading edge of technical development. This is fun for me, and I hope useful to biologists. It keeps me in contact with a lot of exciting field researchers and projects. Since I run a couple of "real" businesses (aeroplane and racing car technology), I would never have the time or patience for field research myself, or the big money that these projects really deserve.

Supporting field friends gives me an excuse to buy and play with interesting new "technotoys", and to visit field projects. So I look for, and occasionally buy and donate equipment.

So what results?

One of my first programs was to have a laptop computer program modified for field recordings so that it would constantly monitor identified vocalizations, and send to the hard drive any brief and rare events that it finds. This allows you to record for hours, but only listen to the few interesting parts, instead of searching thru useless noise in real-time. The program was intended for infrasound and acoustics studies of elephants and rhinos. It is now a part of the Avisoft program, sold by Raimund Specht in Berlin.

The dream is still to identify individuals and to locate them over large distances - valuable for Asian rhinos in the jungles, or elephants widely dispersed in the brush. It may just now be feasible using the latest artificial intelligence research. Naturally the problem is to find the resources and pry them away from richer military programs.

For rhinos so far, recording which I supported here in Europe by Dr. Christa Budde, seems to indicate that infrasound communication is not important to them. But it is still worth investigation because - if it did exist, it would allow rhinos to communicate thru dense jungle for long distances. Christa and I noted that Europe is not a good place to evaluate this concept because of the infrasound background noise.

But maybe rhinos use seismic communication - shake the ground - like elephants and gophers. More to investigate.

Recently I have been looking at "camera traps", which are particularly useful for shy jungle animals which are almost never seen be researchers. Unfortunately none are properly sealed to operate in very corrosive and mildew-plagued tropical environment. A new one has been sent to Sabah for evaluation. These cameras need to be cheap, since many would be required to do proper surveys.

A more recent camera discovery has been a system that detects motion directly thru the video image at any distance, instead of the problems of infrared beams.

Recently I sent Petra a digital video camera, which I hope will be useful in recording scientific observations, as well as for fund raising and promotion. Also a digital sound recording system and Avisoft computer program to try to find infrasound.

A few years ago I found some special night vision equipment to monitor rhino poachers in an area with difficult security. The rangers have said that it has saved their lives, and given them more confidence to engage poachers who are usually better armed than themselves and particularly aggressive. Military security still impedes its full application to conservation outside the States. A sad aside is that the rhino conservationist who asked for this program was murdered last year.

Another project is to find safer ways for inexperienced field researchers to fly without dangerous, badly maintained aeroplanes. Not exaggerating -everyone in Africa has lost a friend to this problem. Powered paragliders may be slow, but they are easy to maintain and you already have your parachute open if something fails - even if you may have to land among the lions or crocodiles.

Other activities have been GPS mapping programs, and solar computer power systems for field researchers.

Some programs have been unsuccessful - such as finding a little bit of money to complete the definition of DNA microsatellite markers so that individual rhinos could be identified from fecal or hair samples. While Texans can raise a quarter of a million dollars to re-introduce 5 rhinos to Botswana, or movie people to return a few from S. Africa to Tanzania, it has not yet been possible to get a trivial $50k to develop this important tool. I hope that New Yorkers or S. Africans have been more successful.

If anyone has suggestions for ideas to investigate in my spare time it would be nice to hear about them (rhinotec@frazier.de).

And greetings and good luck to all the rhino scientists and groupies.

 


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