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

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

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

My objective was to know the thriller behind their easy and well-choreographed gliding behaviour, and the devices have been the important thing to unlock this thriller.

So, what was my sport plan? My crew and I might arrange a makeshift flight enviornment cordoning off two timber within the jungle. One can be the takeoff tree and the opposite, the touchdown tree. Lizards can 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 file a glide from totally different angles. Every digicam was related to an influence financial institution in order that it could possibly be constantly charged for prolonged bouts of recording. The walkie-talkies have been held on the tripod into which I may communicate and file audio notes (ambient temperature, wind pace, animal behaviour), and likewise use the audio to sync frames throughout all cameras. The Wi-Fi distant would set off begin/ cease recording for all of the cameras. The cables have been the underlying community connecting all the things collectively. All these devices needed to work in unison for the publish recording computer-vision wizardry to work and sew all of the views collectively and produce three-dimensional place information. This might kind the idea of all my evaluation.

Did it work? As is the case with most issues in life, some improvisation (‘jugaad’) was required. The primary ‘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 at the least that is what I believed. Within the sizzling and humid tropical climate, when temperatures reached near 35C, a number of of the cameras would invariably overheat and routinely swap off. Shedding any of the cameras was like dropping a bit of a jigsaw puzzle — with out it, the image can be incomplete. This was certain to occur, and a repair was important. We sourced plastic plates from the close by city as private umbrellas for every digicam. This didn’t assist. We painted the plates white to replicate daylight higher. This didn’t work both. Time was working out, particularly provided that I had only a month earlier than the monsoon hit and the lizards’ exercise dropped drastically.

Utilizing plastic plates to maintain the warmth of the GoPros
Photograph Credit score: Pranav Khandelwal

Enter Shankar CM, the station manager-cum-electronics wizard. Inside a number of hours of reconsidering our choices, we determined to construct private cooling rigs for every digicam. Because of Shankar’s ingenuity, we sourced supplies from the close by city and laptop followers from Bangalore. However the logistics posed one other dilemma. There is no such thing as a supply service and Agumbe is past Amazon and Flipkart. So Shankar got here up with one other native resolution. The conductor of a state bus on the Bangalore-Agumbe route delivered the followers for us from a neighborhood store in Bangalore. Shankar spent a number of days making custom-made circuits to energy the followers utilizing the facility bricks. Lo and behold, every digicam had a private cooling system with a security internet round it to forestall any hurt to the lizard from the spinning blades. The facility financial institution would now cost the digicam and run the fan. We did a take a look at run and the cameras may now run for greater than four hours with out powering off. 

The second ‘jugaad’ – the dragon catcher. We needed to spot (utilizing binoculars) and catch lizards perched on tall areca palms in order that they may then be launched within the flight enviornment for recording. The lizards have been typically excessive up within the timber and it was a battle working round looking for one which was inside arm’s attain. Shankar’s intelligent creations got here to the rescue once more. Utilizing tripod poles and a steel tong, Shankar was in a position to make a protracted pole (6m) with a horseshoe formed wire connected to the tong at one finish which was wrapped with a thick delicate padding and material hanging from it. A string related to the horseshoe formed wire hung on the different finish. When pulled, the string would shut the horseshoe, wrapping it across the tree trunk; this is able to pressure the lizard to climb downwards, and proper into our ready palms! This dragon catcher might sound rudimentary and should not immediately qualify as ‘tech’, however this contraption proved to be one of the crucial helpful items of gadget within the forest to seize lizards for recording.

I can go on and on about using expertise – how the drone helped map the jungle panorama to measure the lizard territory, to using DSLR digicam to seize qualitative behaviour information and all the gorgeous footage of the work that you just see right here. However none of this is able to have been attainable with out the group of like-minded, curious those that helped me arrange and use the devices that enabled information assortment in ways in which weren’t attainable earlier than. I’ll most likely exit on a limb and say that it was these devices that allowed me to fulfill 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
Photograph Credit score: 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 maneuver in complicated spatial environments and the way it may be utilized to real-world purposes. His analysis closely depends on utilizing consumer-grade expertise as a device to amass behavioural information in real-world settings.

Shankar CM focuses on custom-made options for Ecological analysis tools. 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 Basis, below their programme Nature Communication to encourage nature content material in all Indian languages. If you happen to’re taken with writing on nature and birds, please refill this form.

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