Crittercam Inventor Greg Marshall Tags Macaque Monkeys In Singapore
By Jennifer Lee | Editorials
March 14, 2012
Asian Scientist Magazine follows Crittercam inventor and National Geographic scientist Greg Marshall as he tags macaque monkeys at Singapore’s Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
AsianScientist (Mar. 14, 2012) – You secure an elastic spandex sheet around the tube (body) of a meter-long Humboldt squid, and then attach yourself to the spandex. You are now ready for the ride of your lifetime, right on the back of the predator.
The Red Devil dives deep into the ocean, pulling you underwater. All of a sudden, you are taken to another world. A low-oxygen environment rarely seen by the human eye.
It is pitch-dark. The good news is you have your headlight on. The bad news? Your headlight has triggered the predatory response of fellow Humboldt squids, sending them into frenzy. They launch an attack, throwing their tentacles at you. Their teeth-lined suckers pull you off the spandex, and you float up to the surface. As you ascend, the giants follow, blocking your vision with tens of tentacles.
What an exhilarating experience that must have been… for the Crittercam!
Nat Geo’s remote imaging system: The Crittercam
The Humbolt squid video was one of the most memorable scenes captured on the Crittercam, recounted Greg Marshall, its inventor and scientist with the National Geographic.
Comprising of different technologies that allow us to conceptualize animal behavior in the wild, the Crittercam is an integrated research tool that gathers important information previously inaccessible to humans.
Other than its video recording functionality, the Crittercam also accesses the animal’s surrounding environment, such as temperature, light level, depth of the ocean, direction where the animal is heading, and even its orientation in relation to gravity. And because they weigh less than a kilogram on land, the low density of the Crittercams makes them almost weightless in the ocean.
Past deployments of the Crittercam by various researchers have led to a better understanding of whales, seals, sharks, penguins, and turtles. For example, Crittercam video recordings revealed the foraging grounds of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, which helped to push for an expansion of protected areas for the seals.
In the earlier part of the millennium, the Crittercam also shed light on the mating behavior of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. Scientists used to believe that only female leatherback sea turtles swam long distances to nesting zones. Crittercam footage, however, showed that male leatherbacks followed the females to the nesting zone, where they mated after the eggs were laid. This discovery opened a discussion on how to reduce threats from nearby fisheries as the turtles swam through the fishing zone.
Crittercam macaque project in Singapore
In 2011, Agustin Fuentes of the University of Notre Dame tagged two long-tailed macaques with satellite collars at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore. The satellite collars allowed him to track where the macaques were at 15 minute intervals for up to a month. Surprisingly, the macaques did not attempt to remove the collars, except for some initial fiddling.
The data Fuentes collected, however, lacked video footage and was limited to the altitude, range, and approximate duration the monkeys spent at each location.This year, Fuentes took a step forward to find a way take on a macaque’s point of view. He approached Greg Marshall to test whether the Crittercams could be used on monkeys – representing the first time the cameras were deployed on primates.
Fortunately, technological advancements have since shrunk the Crittercam, making it smaller and hence possible for use with macaques.
Together with Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore National Parks Board, the duo deployed the newly-developed 170 gram Crittercams on two macaques at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore.
Three days later, they returned to retrieve the data by remote-controlled unlatching of the collars.
“Approximately 1,300 macaques thrive alongside the dense human population in Singapore,” said Fuentes.
“It is important to study social systems where humans and animals are able to maintain a sustainable relationship with minimal human-animal conflict. Perhaps we can then implement a similar system to other countries,” he explained.
What’s next for the Crittercam?
The National Geographic Crittercam team led by Greg Marshall is working intensively to make the Crittercam as small as possible, so that someday it will be possible to tag even smaller animals.
In the years to come, Crittercams may even be equipped with night-vision functionality or perhaps come in mini-versions small enough to fit on any animal, said Marshall.
“We want people to care about animals,” Marshall said. “The issue of conservation is so critical, especially to our children. We hope to get them inspired to become scientists or conservationists, by delivering science in a more engaging way.”
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo/Video: National Geographic Society.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.