Aeris Blog

How IoT is Helping Zoos Create Better Animal Habitats

July 31, 2019

Modern day zoos are quite different from their origins in the early 19th century. Originally founded for the purposes of scientific study and public entertainment, zoos have since expanded their focus to give priority to animal conservation, becoming key components of worldwide efforts to protect endangered species. 

As of 2018, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports more than 25,000 threatened species on their annual Red List. As species become endangered or extinct, the decline in biodiversity has had concerning implications for local ecosystems and the economies that depend on them. Zoos have become vital resources in the fight against threatened species and declining ecological biodiversity by training conservationists and educating the public on the challenges faced by endangered animals. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the primary independent accrediting organization for zoos in North America, $220 million is spent by zoos in support of conservation projects every year.

A fundamental factor in fulfilling zoos’ mission of conservation is creating suitable habitats for animals in captivity to live and thrive. Scientists’ understanding about the inner lives of animals is greater now than ever before, and with this understanding comes new challenges. Ideal zoo enclosures are dynamic, humane, spacious, and reflect the environments of animals’ natural habitats, all while fulfilling patrons’ desires to engage with the animals and learn more about factors that are threatening their existence. Unfortunately, accomplishing these complex, diverse objectives within zoos’ limited budgets can be a difficult logistical conundrum.

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Temperature Regulation for Animals Where They Sleep

For one zoo, the solution to achieving a dynamic enclosure that works with the animals lies in the Internet of Things (IoT). Last year, Marwell Zoo in the UK unveiled an initiative to improve the sleeping conditions for their animals with IoT-enabled machine learning. Their goal was to provide comfortable animal housing while reducing energy consumption and cutting heating costs without compromising habitat quality.

In the past, Marwell Zoo has used infrared heaters installed above bedding areas that would be turned on in the evenings in spring and autumn, and left on 24 hours in winter. Each heater costs the zoo roughly £13 per hour to run, which contributes to significant heating costs for animals that are accustomed to warmer climates, such as the nyala antelope. To reduce these costs, sustainability managers have installed thermal sensors in the nyala enclosure to track the animals’ location. When one of them enters a bedding area and settles in, the sensors will trigger the infrared lamps to turn on; when they leave, the sensors will turn the lamps back off. As the IoT platform gathers more information about the nyalas’ movements, a neural net classifier is improving the system’s animal recognition capabilities to become more effective and energy efficient.

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Increasing Visitor Engagement and Education with Augmented Reality

In the long term, IoT temperature regulation can be implemented throughout zoo enclosures to ensure maximum comfort and happiness for the animals in captivity. As these systems gather more data on the animals’ movements, IoT infrastructure also could aid in zoos’ mission to educate visitors on current conservation efforts. For example, Seoul Grand Park in South Korea has launched a mobile app service for visitors that provides information on flora and fauna throughout the zoo, along with an augmented reality game that quizzes patrons on their knowledge and invites them on a scavenger hunt for specific animals and facilities in the park. Movement tracking also could alert zoo patrons when an animal is visible in their habitat so that they can be viewed in their natural cycle of sleeping and waking. 

Build Better Enclosures with Aeris IoT

In order for zoos to achieve their mission of animal conservation and endangered species protection, they must create habitats that promote wellness in the lives of their animals. Using IoT technology, animal enclosures can achieve a level of dynamic interaction and humane conditions that were previously expensive and unsustainable.

Aeris’ IoT solutions are designed to tackle difficult challenges, like the ones facing zoos. Our sensor technology and the Aeris Connectivity Platform are fully customizable and scalable to any size. Whether you seek to efficiently regulate enclosure temperatures or devise minimally intrusive methods for animal care, Aeris provides the tools you need to implement IoT programs that will help save endangered animal populations.

To learn more about how Aeris can help you utilize IoT, contact us today.