3 September 2013
How gaming technology has been adapted to study crocodiles.
Getting dirty and down to business, the Irwins and Australia Zoo croc-catching crew never mess about on the annual croc research trip to the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. In August 2011, they caught an impressive 22 crocodiles, and tagged the 86th croc, all in the name of research.
For the first time researchers trialled an accelerometer, which tracks movement as well as how much energy is expended. The type of acceleration forces the accelerometer measures is a quantity known as g-force. These forces may be static, like the constant force of gravity pulling at your feet, or they could be dynamic - caused by moving or vibrating the accelerometer.
As part of the longest-running croc research project in the world, the Zoo teams up with the University of Queensland Eco-Lab team led by Professor Craig Franklin to study crocodiles to undertake the research each August - during the dry season free of monsoonal rains and cyclonic weather than can hamper progress.
One of the researchers, Dr Hamish Campbell, told Crikey! Magazine that an accelerometer was successfully attached to the nuchal fold of a female crocodile named Kiki on the August expedition in far north Queensland. "The information we gather from the accelerometer will show intensity of movement or force which will indicate how often Kiki takes a big feed," Dr Hamish Campbell said. It's too early to decipher the complex data but researchers hope it will more about the diet and behaviour of these living dinosaurs. Follow Kiki and other GPS-satellite tagged crocodiles.
Accelerometers are becoming popular in biological sciences research, particularly of wild marine animals, like seals, because visual observations are unreliable. Some computer companies have recently started using accelerometers in their laptops to protect hard drives from damage. Accelerometers are also used in vehicles to detect crashes and in deploying airbags at the right time.
Furthermore, the main feature of the Wii Remote is its motion sensing capability, which allows the user to interact with the screen via gesture recognition and pointing through the use of accelerometer and optical sensor technology.
A Changing Landscape
Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve ranger Barry Lyon reports on his 'office' - an ever-changing landscape.
Summer is undoubtedly the most exciting time on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve as this is the time when the much awaited monsoon envelopes the landscape.
Seven months of this year have been almost totally rain free, the landscape baked and parched by the tropical sun, and sometimes threatened by illegally lit wildfires, usually started outside of the Reserve.
I would like to recognise the work done by ranger Josh Lyon and volunteer Drew Poulderman in holding a wildfire that entered the Reserve from a neighbouring property a few months ago. The fire rapidly expanded when the wind reversed direction and blew as a strong westerly. It required a series of prolonged and careful back-burning operations and patrolling over three days to hold the fire, with minimal equipment. Josh and Drew worked until 3am on the first night, and until 1am on the second to ensure success, containing the fire to a relatively small area, assisted by the presence of an early burnt fire break to the north. In contrast, another wildfire on a neighbouring property was now burning on an 80km front.
During the long, dry season, the rivers, billabongs, springs and swamps and their surrounding vegetation all become crucial oases for wildlife. Notable amongst these are the rare and handsome Palm Cockatoos - Australia's largest cockatoo species; the Spotted Cuscus - a rare type of rainforest possum; and flocks of the Torresian Imperial Pigeons that migrate from New Guinea for the summer.
The piecing calls of magnificent Rifle birds and the shrills of the Yellow-billed Kingfishers - two bird species that are only found in the northern Cape York rainforests, are two of the many bird calls that ring out almost constantly during the day.
And in the river itself, female Saltwater or Estuarine crocodiles travel to their preferred nesting areas to lay their eggs, often beside swamps adjacent to the Wenlock. Meanwhile, the Freshwater crocodiles have already nested, and the youngsters are hunting small fish, insects and crustaceans.
During December, huge, towering thunderstorm clouds are a daily sight, their incessant lightning displays providing spectacular light shows at night.
The Reserve rangers prepared for the 'wet', including building a big stock of non-perishable food at 'Coolibah Camp'. Our wildlife survey work continues though, especially with frogs and reptiles, and often rare annual plants appearing in large numbers in response to the rain. We also have to download the electronic data from the many 'hydrophones' set along the river to monitor crocodile movements, and undertake our regular monitoring of the rare bauxite springs and the groundwater level.
Usually about a week or so before Christmas, the monsoon descends over Cape York, drenching the landscape like a huge watering can.
As the waterways progressively flood and the bush roads and tracks become boggy, our only way of accessing 'Steve's Place' is by an exciting, 45km, two-hour dinghy ride up the swollen Wenlock River. Our land transport is limited and by foot or quad bike.
Our research with the University of Queensland has shown that many Estuarine crocodiles move out of the main river into side creeks and swamps during the 'wet', so we also keep a keen lookout for these awesome living dinosaurs - the largest living reptiles on the planet.
Crocodile Conservation Project
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Featured in Crikey! Magazine
This article first featured in issue #20 of our very own Crikey! Magazine.
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