Wildlife-tracking drones



Ah, technology, isn't it wonderful? Drones aren't just useful for targeting suspected terrorists in far-off countries; unmanned aircraft can also be used to photograph birds roosting on cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean. Or so thinks the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which plans to send a 6-pound drone with a 54-inch wingspan aloft to photograph and routinely monitor double-crested cormorants, birds that can devour a couple of pounds of salmon and steelhead every day. The little drone, powered by an electric motor, is equipped with an Android smartphone that automatically takes photographs and sends them to a computer. The drone costs between $500 and $1,000 –– a whole lot less than a piloted plane, which also has to maneuver through dangerous winds along the coast.

And from Geneva, Switzerland, comes an ingenious -- some might say too ingenious -- high-tech experiment to protect sheep from wolves, which have reappeared in the region after a hundred-year absence. Agence France-Presse reports that a band of sheep were fitted with heart monitors; when muzzled "wolfdogs" approached, the sheep's heartbeats accelerated and triggered a device that texted herders, warning them that there was trouble in the pasture. Just to be sure, the collars also released a repellent to drive predators away. Comments about this layered approach were skeptical: "How is this cheaper than a dog?" asked "Susan." "Wouldn't it be easier to teach them Morse code?" added "AnotherNamVet," so the sheep could do the texting themselves. "When the wolf is close, they could bleat: "baa-baa-baa … baaa-baaaa-baaaa …" To which "Bordercollierules" replied, "Swiss sheep have thumbs? Just what kind of genetic engineering is going on over in the Alps?"

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected]

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