iPhone app allows public to track cassowary

By Kelly Royds 19 April 2010
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Scientists invite bird-watchers to help monitor the endangered cassowary by recording sightings via an iPhone app or web site.

QUEENSLAND SCIENTISTS HAVE appealed to the public to lend their eyes and iPhones to the critical cause of the endangered southern cassowary. It is estimated there are less than 1500 left in the wild.

The cassowary, a large flightless bird native to tropical Queensland, is in crisis because of habitat loss. More information on the bird’s movements is needed to better understand its biological needs and to develop an evidence-based recovery plan.

Website for cassowary

Scientists from the University of Queensland have collaborated with Australian Geographic, Queensland Parks and Wildlife and Rainforest Rescue to launch a website (available here) where the public can upload footage of the birds, record their position using Google Maps and log their details using an iPhone application.

The project, funded in part by the Australian Geographic Society, is being spearheaded by Dr Hamish Campbell, an expert in tracking animals. “The novel thing about the iPhone application is that people can log a bird’s location even when they are out of mobile phone range,” Hamish says. Given that cassowaries typically reside in forests, the ability to record movement in these remote areas is a vital development.

Unifying the database

According to him, there is little recorded data about the Cassowary’s ecology and most information is anecdotal. “We’re trying to minimise the error in the data; get everyone using the same technology and unify the database throughout the wet tropics.”

The key demographic expected to use this new smartphone technology include local residents of cassowary hotspots, bushwalkers in Queensland’s wildlife parks and other nature enthusiasts keen to help conservation efforts.

Hamish and his team also managed to tag five cassowaries around Moresby National Park in Queensland. GPS dataloggers fitted to the birds’ legs will record their position every 30 minutes, providing important environmental and behavioural information.

Tagging can be problematic, given that cassowaries are notoriously shy and treacherous to handle. “Not only are they a dangerous animal but they are very fragile,” Hamish told Australian Geographic. It is key that the team’s logging technology now allows people to record a bird’s location from a safe distance.

Australian Geographic Society: Cassowary campaign
Project Cassowary: Eco-Lab