Kevin Richardson GoPro documentary still

GoPro: a new eye on conservation?

If you’ve heard of GoPro at all you’ll most likely think of extreme sports, base jumping, sky diving, motor cross etc. For me, I first became aware of the name through friends who spend the winter snowboarding in northern Japan. For the uninitiated, GoPro is variously described as a sports action camera, a high-definition personal camera or simply a wearable camera, and wearable they certainly are, as they are tiny, but more about that later.

Despite seeing friend’s daredevil videos posted on Facebook I thought little of them until I came across Alex Chachon’s video ‘Around the World in 360 Degrees’ (below). Though it’s a little off topic I suggest if you haven’t seen it already, watch it in full screen with the resolution cranked up for 3 minutes of itchy-feet inducing awe.

Suitably impressed I clicked on another video that came up in the preview panel at the end. The video had been doing the rounds on Facebook, but for one reason or another I had resisted clicking on it.

The video entitled ‘GoPro: Lions – The New Endangered Species?’ (below) is part of a series produced by GoPro to promote their technology, and whilst I think you’ll agree it certainly does that, what struck me was the power of this new technology to make high quality videos about subjects that really matter. Though, no doubt, a professional crew was involved in the making of this short documentary many of the most amazing scenes are shot from a chest or shoulder mounted camera that gives a point of view and sense of intimacy that I think we have rarely been able to witness before.

Kevin Richardson – The Lion Whisperer

The video part of GoPro’s Adventure Series highlights the work of Kevin Richardson; a conservationist who has developed truly unique relationships with lions and hyenas in Pretoria, South Africa. Had the movie been made with a traditional video camera it would have been interesting, but the sheer size of the GoPro puts you right inside the action. The perspectives give us a glimpse into a world far beyond and much more intimate than the traditional filmed from afar/animal sniffing around remote-controlled camera pieces we are used to, and for that it becomes all the more powerful.

Whilst some might scoff at the idea and others talk of the danger, Richardson’s physical relationship with the lions and hyenas allows us to look past the red in tooth and claw nature of these animals. It’s sad to say that we all too often tend to care more about and fight harder for animals that appeal to or mirror some aspect of our own nature. Here what Richardson manages to do is tread that fine line and make us think again.

At the time of writing the video has been viewed more that 15.9 millions times, bringing Richardson’s work to perhaps a much wider audience than he could ever have dreamed of.

To learn more about Kevin’s work with large carnivores, the scandal of petting lions and canned hunts and his efforts to preserve habitat check out his site here.

Our Orangutan Brethren

Our Orangutan Brethren is another one of the GoPro Adventure Series and looks at the work of the Frankfurt Zoological Society in the rapidly dwindling Sumatran rainforests. Showing efforts to re-introduce confiscated orangutans the video, like that of Richardson’s, gives us a new perspective on the plight of the orangutan and forests being lost to palm oil plantations.

Whilst perhaps this video is somewhat less ‘raw’ than the lion one, following a largely traditional format, we still get some unique shots from the orangutans point of view. But here with the camera featured in many shots, as was most likely intended, we simply marvel at how such a tiny thing can capture such richly detailed imagery.

You can get more information on the work of the Frankfurt Zoological Society and their orangutan project here

The Cape Griffons

With yet another entry on the GoPro adventure series list this risks descending into a full-blown advertorial, but bear with me and watch this short documentary looking at the work of VulPro; an African vulture conservation society.

Using what looks to be a very simple and evidently tiny setup we get another unique perspective on an animal that many, given its appearance and cultural associations, might not otherwise care about. I particularly loved the paragliding scenes.

Brad Josephs

Another video you may have seen on social media entitled A Grizzly Almost Ate My GoPro was shot by naturalist and nature photographer Brad Josephs. On his site you’ll find some very up close and personal footage of bears in their natural habitat including the aforementioned incident of a bear having a good chew on the camera. Though the videos appear to be largely unedited they still manage impress and demonstrate the in-the-field ruggedness of the camera and how it might be used by conservationists. In one video Josephs’ appears to simply drop the camera into a river to capture bears splashing through the water from below.

Conservation Drones

Rapid advances in technology have yielded some amazing equipment that provides an unprecedented view of habitats and locations that were previously inaccessible, think James Cameron and his Deepsea Challenge or Greg Asner and his Carnegie Airborne Observatory. By the way, if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend Asner’s TED talk about his ecology mapping work. As great as these projects are, however, they require huge sums of money.

Typically though ecologists and conservationists operate on much smaller budgets. This is where the GoPro comes into its own, not only is it rugged, tiny and light but it’s also, for the equipment you’re getting, incredibly cheap. This combined with other cheap components has allowed the field of conservation drones to flourish.

Unlike the sinister, deadly and, it has to be said, cowardly drones used by certain militaries, conservation drones are geared purely towards helping researchers access remote areas and perform research and analysis that would be almost impossible from the ground.

Organisations like Conservation Drones.org have not only developed these small and very affordable devices, but they even include  detailed instructions on their website should you wish to make one of your very own.

Check out the TED talk given by one of the founders below

With each iteration of the camera seemingly smaller, lighter and more powerful and with organizations like Conservation Drones and other innovative schemes like the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge who are constantly trying to invent and improve this technology conservation projects will become cheaper, easier to run and hopefully reach a much wider audience.

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