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High Tech Meets Jugaad in the Jungle to Study Agumbe’s Flying Dragons

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A drone, 7 GoPro cameras, 2 Wi-Fi GoPro set off remotes, a Canon DSLR, a number of digital camera lenses, 7 heavy obligation tripods, eight reminiscence playing cards, eight walkie-talkies, 7 excessive capability energy banks, a anemometer, numerous charging and knowledge switch cables, an optically stabilizing binocular, a 4TB exterior arduous drive, all packed in two black army grade pelican circumstances. I nonetheless keep in mind the glances that I bought from individuals at the airports whereas bringing all my analysis gear from the USA to India in the summer season of 2017. I regarded like a person on a mission… an important mission. It was close to sure that I’d be pulled out at the safety test at each airport. I had my elevator pitch prepared on how all these devices had been to assist me unravel the mysteries of the flying dragon!

I used to be touring to the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS); nestled in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, the Agumbe rainforest is house to considered one of many species of gliding lizards belonging to the genus Draco discovered in Asia. Famously referred to as the flying dragons of the animal kingdom, these magnificent, but cryptic creatures are usually not your typical gliders. Measuring roughly a palm size, they launch from treetops and unfold their wing like Batman’s cape. Once airborne, they deftly manoeuvre the jungle maze, actively controlling their aerial descent and overlaying distances over 100 instances their physique size in lower than just a few seconds. When it is time to land, they reorient themselves like a parachute deploying from a fighter jet, slowing down and touchdown on their supposed goal tree.

My objective was to perceive the thriller behind their easy and well-choreographed gliding behaviour, and the devices had been the key to unlock this thriller.

So, what was my recreation plan? My crew and I’d arrange a makeshift flight enviornment cordoning off two timber in the jungle. One could be the takeoff tree and the different, the touchdown tree. Lizards could be caught and launched on the takeoff tree. The 7 GoPro cameras — 5 mounted on tripods and one every on the takeoff and touchdown timber — would concurrently report a glide from totally different angles. Each digital camera was linked to an influence financial institution in order that it might be constantly charged for prolonged bouts of recording. The walkie-talkies had been held on the tripod into which I might converse and report audio notes (ambient temperature, wind velocity, animal behaviour), and in addition use the audio to sync frames throughout all cameras. The Wi-Fi distant would set off begin/ cease recording for all the cameras. The cables had been the underlying community connecting every thing collectively. All these devices had to work in unison for the submit recording computer-vision wizardry to work and sew all the views collectively and produce three-dimensional place knowledge. This would kind the foundation of all my evaluation.

Did it work? As is the case with most issues in life, some improvisation (‘jugaad’) was required. The first ‘jugaad’ got here with the GoPro cameras. Being motion cameras, GoPros are ultra-portable and rugged, able to dealing with excessive (kind of) situations. Or a minimum of that is what I believed. In the scorching and humid tropical climate, when temperatures reached shut to 35C, a number of of the cameras would invariably overheat and mechanically change off. Losing any of the cameras was like dropping a chunk of a jigsaw puzzle — with out it, the image could be incomplete. This was sure to occur, and a repair was crucial. We sourced plastic plates from the close by city as private umbrellas for every digital camera. This didn’t assist. We painted the plates white to mirror daylight higher. This didn’t work both. Time was operating out, particularly provided that I had only a month earlier than the monsoon hit and the lizards’ exercise dropped drastically.

Using plastic plates to hold the warmth of the GoPros
Photo Credit: Pranav Khandelwal

Enter Shankar CM, the station manager-cum-electronics wizard. Within just a few hours of reconsidering our choices, we determined to construct private cooling rigs for every digital camera. Thanks to Shankar’s ingenuity, we sourced supplies from the close by city and laptop followers from Bangalore. But the logistics posed one other dilemma. There isn’t any supply service and Agumbe is past Amazon and Flipkart. So Shankar got here up with one other native answer. The conductor of a state bus on the Bangalore-Agumbe route delivered the followers for us from a neighborhood store in Bangalore. Shankar spent just a few days making custom-made circuits to energy the followers utilizing the energy bricks. Lo and behold, every digital camera had a private cooling system with a security web round it to stop any hurt to the lizard from the spinning blades. The energy financial institution would now cost the digital camera and run the fan. We did a take a look at run and the cameras might now run for greater than four hours with out powering off. 

The second ‘jugaad’ – the dragon catcher. We had to spot (utilizing binoculars) and catch lizards perched on tall areca palms in order that they might then be launched in the flight enviornment for recording. The lizards had been typically excessive up in the timber and it was a wrestle operating round making an attempt to discover one which was inside arm’s attain. Shankar’s intelligent creations got here to the rescue once more. Using tripod poles and a steel tong, Shankar was in a position to make a protracted pole (6m) with a horseshoe formed wire hooked up to the tong at one finish which was wrapped with a thick delicate padding and fabric hanging from it. A string linked to the horseshoe formed wire hung at the different finish. When pulled, the string would shut the horseshoe, wrapping it round the tree trunk; this could power the lizard to climb downwards, and proper into our ready palms! This dragon catcher may appear rudimentary and will not immediately qualify as ‘tech’, however this contraption proved to be considered one of the most helpful items of gadget in the forest to seize lizards for recording.

I can go on and on about the use of expertise – how the drone helped map the jungle panorama to measure the lizard territory, to the use of DSLR digital camera to seize qualitative behaviour knowledge and all the fairly footage of the work that you simply see right here. But none of this could have been attainable with out the group of like-minded, curious people who helped me arrange and use the devices that enabled knowledge assortment in ways in which weren’t attainable earlier than. I’ll in all probability exit on a limb and say that it was these devices that allowed me to meet so many individuals, share my love for analysis, and kind a group which I now name the ‘Draco household’.

fan cooling rig module pranav Draco

The ultimate cooling rig utilizing laptop followers
Photo Credit: Pranav Khandelwal

Pranav Khandelwal is an Indian researcher fascinated by the workings of the pure world round us. He research the underlying processes that allow animals to transfer in advanced spatial environments and the way it may be utilized to real-world purposes. His analysis closely depends on utilizing consumer-grade expertise as a software to purchase behavioural knowledge in real-world settings.

Shankar CM specializes in custom-made options for Ecological analysis gear. He has labored in distant areas in India engaged on initiatives associated to animal monitoring and conservation.

This sequence is an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation, underneath their programme Nature Communication to encourage nature content material in all Indian languages. If you are in writing on nature and birds, please refill this form.


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