August 24, 2018

12:11 am

Elephants: The Space Force We Really Need

Elephants and other animals can protect us from beyond Earth's atmosphere — and they won't even need to suit up in costly or clumsy spacesuits.

As Forbes reported, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev successfully installed an antennae onto the International Space Station.


The antenna is part of a satellite-tracking system called ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space), which will monitor the global movements of animals, ranging in size from elephants to tiny ants.

By closely following the behaviors of these creatures over a 17-year period, scientists hope to pick up on patterns and deviations, which can be interpreted for everything from climate change to even potential warning signs to humans.

As the German research organization the Max Planck Society noted, "Before the devastating seaquake of 2004, too, many animals exhibited different behaviors than normal. Elephants in Sri Lanka, for example, sensed the danger long before the tsunami hit the coast, and fled inland. People who instinctively followed them were saved from death. 'When animals go crazy, run away from the sea and go to the highlands,' advises an Indonesian children’s song. "

Speaking of technology concerning elephants and earthquakes, Science magazine reports that biologists in Kenya can use seismic sensors "to detect elephant poachers in real time." Based on research reported in Current Biology, scientists "used computer modelling to constrain the propagation ranges of elephant seismic vibrations for different terrains and noise levels. ... [C]lassifying the seismic signatures of specific behaviours of large mammals remotely in real time, such as elephant running, could inform on poaching threats."

Back to Icarus, there will be other applications, as well, including potential insights on diseases, by closely following, for example, fruit bats in Africa, which are vectors of viruses. Scientists plan to track 120 different animals by 2019, and further expand after that.