Livestreaming is revolutionizing animal care

Courtney Dunn
November 14, 2022

As technology has advanced, more organizations are choosing to adopt this innovation as a method of not only engaging their valued supporters but also advancing animal care.

Livestreaming cameras have existed in the zoological world for quite some time – the earliest dating back to the beginning of the 21st century. As time has progressed and as technology has advanced, more organizations are choosing to adopt this innovation as a method of engaging their valued supporters by allowing them to access the animals they love.

This is great news for zoo & aquarium aficionados but, what about the staff? Can livestreaming cameras hold value to Animal Care teams as well?

Let’s talk about it!

How have zoos historically monitored animals for animal care?

Traditionally zoos and aquariums monitor their animals via CCTV cameras that are not broadcasted publicly. Valuable data is collected about the animals but it means accepting the sacrifice of having to sit and comb through hours (if not days) worth of footage. This is followed by making manual notes about what is of interest in the footage.

When you think of zoos or aquariums and the contributions they had made to zoological research, you can probably thank this observational method for many of the great discoveries. This is because the animals typically will not display their behaviours while in the presence of staff who are trying to monitor them. Therefore, the greatest examples of behaviours are ironically observed “when nobody is looking”.

A North Island brown kiwi out browsing for grubs. Photo taken by Community Member tigerseyes2021.

With the advancement of digital recording technology, the cameras have been able to record for longer periods of time and in greater detail. The playbacks can also be widely shared without the need for making physical copies and mailing them. Multiple cameras can also record footage back to a single video recorder. Yet, it is still a burden to have to sift through the video to filter out the footage of interest. This often means lots of fast forwarding and play back to discover any valuable data.

The Animal Care team’s time is already spent on providing for the animals and, many times, there just isn’t enough hours in the day to get the opportunity to make observations in real time or to review recorded footage. Animal Care teams tend to rely on volunteers and researchers such as graduate students to put the time into discovering what the animals are doing or how they are reacting to new stimuli in their environments. There is always a need for researchers to assist with this as there is no shortage of video to review.

Why do zoos monitor animals for animal care?

With all of this work being done in zoos and aquariums, you might ask – what’s the point? Why can’t this sort of thing just be observed in the wild? Why study animals in zoos and aquariums?

It is actually a couple of simple answers. Animals are really, really hard to find in the wild. Animals also do not behave naturally in our presence 100% of the time. Think of the largest animal species known to live in your region (maybe a deer or a bear, something that should be very easy to see). When was the last time you saw one? When you saw it (and it saw you) what did it do? Animals are experts at hiding their presence and this proves to be an enormous challenge for scientific study. This is why studying animals that live in zoos & aquariums is beneficial as it is much easier to observe behaviours.

An Amur tiger lounging out on habitat. Photo taken by Community Member KookyKoala50679.

Accredited and reputable zoological organizations spend their time using the accumulated knowledge from this research to better understand the needs of the animals and how to create the most suitable environments for them to inhabit. This in turn elicits more natural behaviours from the animals themselves which is then studied by the next generation. This positive loop of learning and creating is happening right now at zoos and aquariums around the world.

As the technology continues to evolve and become commonplace, more zoos and aquariums are showing interest in the possibilities that remote monitoring can offer. There is never too much data that can be collected about the animals as it all can be used to feed into that positive loop. Yet, as the advancements occur, we have yet to discover a convenient method of reviewing the footage. So far, there has not been a satisfactory replacement for the human eye and our perception of what we see. Will it ever be possible for a camera system to tell the difference between an animal standing up or lying down? Can a camera system differentiate between eating and drinking? Perhaps in the future artificial intelligence can filter through the recorded data and discover these behaviours at digital speeds but until that time, humans are the only solution.

A Channel Island fox surveying its habitat. Photo taken by Community Member Pickle-Lily.

How does Zoolife help zoos monitor animals?

Zoolife is proud to provide the highest quality camera technology to our partner organizations as we are also curious about how to provide an automated monitoring solution for Animal Care teams. While we are working on creating these solutions, we are happy to have our incredible viewers who are gathering footage of the animals displaying their unique behaviours.

When Animal Care teams aren’t able to remotely monitor the animals in real-time, the archive of the footage is reviewed by the team – and it is still actually quite helpful. This is because our viewers focus the clips on the most important and interesting moments in the animal’s daily life. This allows the Animal Care teams to skip past the burden of having to review hours upon hours of footage, something they appreciate dearly. A community of fans helping a community of care providers, whose collective efforts support the wondrous wildlife, what’s better than that?

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about animal behavior from the comfort of your own home? Visit Zoolife today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!