'Critter Cams' Connect Wildlife to the World Thanks to Conservation Non-Profits

IP network cameras peer into the life of animals.
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Gulls congregate, as captured by Cornell Lab of Ornithology's camera.

CHELMSFORD, Mass. – Axis Communications is celebrating Earth Day 2014 by highlighting non-profit organizations that raise awareness of wildlife and conservation projects through live Web streams of animal habitats using the company's network cameras.

These “critter cams” let viewers share in the daily lives of animals usually hidden in forests, groves or high atop trees. The high-quality streams, often running 24/7 in HDTV-quality, are an important educational tool to protect, preserve and promote awareness of wild animals and the threats they face in a changing environment.

Video plays a significant role in building an emotional bond between people and the animals they view, which can encourage continued donations to support the cause.

The video also contributes to scientific discovery and aids in the rehabilitation of injured wildlife – all without disrupting animal habitats. Check out the following links for up close and personal encounters with birds, bears and manatees, and learn more about each organization below:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: From the treetops to the desktop

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a part of Cornell University, has been actively expanding its Web streaming offerings since 2012.

“The ability of birds to captivate and engage people is nearly unlimited,” said Bird Cam Project Leader Charles Eldermire. “However, not everyone has access to their world. Our cams offer an intimate perspective into the everyday lives of birds, providing something at once both ordinary and extraordinary.”

The Cornell Lab has installed IP networked cameras at sites around the country, including at a great blue heron nest in Ithaca, N.Y., and at an albatross nest in Kauai, Hawaii.

In Ithaca, the great blue heron camera captured previously undocumented courtship and breeding behavior, adding scientific benefits to educational and awareness milestones already achieved.

“The amazing thing is that the public is at the crest of that wave of discovery right there next to us, and the relevancy of those observations, both to science and in the individual's own experience, is a very empowering and engaging tool to connect people with birds and the natural world,” Eldermire said.

(Watch the Cornell Lab of Ornithology install cameras at the great blue heron nest here.)

American Eagle Foundation: Face to face with a national symbol

The America Eagle Foundation (AEF) in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. has also found the family life of birds to be a major draw for the public. The AEF operates the largest bald eagle breeding and educational center in the United States and has been working to protect the national icon since 1985. In 2013, AEF began live streaming video and audio from an eagle nest in Florida. The project was surveyed and installed by Florida-based systems integrator JES Hardware Solutions.

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The American Eagle Foundation keeps a close eye on a family of bald eagles.

The eagles, nicknamed Romeo and Juliet, have raised 11 eaglets since 2008 in their nest 80 feet up a slash pine tree. With the camera installed, a worldwide audience was able to watch their newest children, Samson and Delilah, hatch, grow up and begin lives of their own.

“This year, hundreds of thousands of viewers were able to experience all the excitement without disturbing the day-to-day life of these birds,” said AEF founder and president, Al Cecere.

The network-based pan/tilt/zoom cameras are controlled remotely by AEF operators or through presets established in a user-friendly interface. Operators can pan the camera instantly to the nest, branches where the eagles relax or the nearby lake. They can even zoom in on specific details, such as the eagles’ eyes or an individual feather.

“It’s amazing how close the cameras can get and still be totally in focus,” said Cecere.

(Watch the American Eagle Foundation install cameras at the bald eagle nest here).

The Wildlife Center of Virginia: Caring and sharing with IP video

The Wildlife Center of Virginia, a wild animal rehabilitation hospital, set up Web streams with systems integrator Johnson Controls, Inc., and observes injured or orphaned animals brought to the organization, including eagles, hawks and bears.

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Rehabilitated bears are watched at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

The cameras have been a boon for education and fundraising. A dedicated community of viewers regularly chats in accompanying discussion boards and together raised more than $5,000 for new medical equipment and supplies. The cameras play an integral role in the Center’s outreach program, and it often uses video as a learning tool for classroom sessions with school children.

The cameras also help the veterinary staff monitor animals throughout their stay, especially during the spring when newborns arrive.

“Our veterinary and rehabilitation team spend a great deal of time caring for hundreds of injured and orphaned baby animals that need assistance. The cameras that we have at the Wildlife Center play a great role in helping us monitor these young patients. We can also use camera footage to train our rehabilitation externs, who are the next generation of wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians,” said Director of Outreach Amanda Nicholson.

(See photos from the construction of the Wildlife Center’s outdoor bear enclosure, including the installation of Axis network cameras here).

Save the Manatee Club: Streaming underwater over the Web

The Save the Manatee Club, founded by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett in 1981 to protect manatees in Florida and around the world, opened live streaming video channels in 2012 at a winter manatee refugee in Blue Spring State Park, Fla. The location can draw hundreds of manatees each season and is a prime spot for manatee research and documentation.

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Manatees relax in a safe environment at the Save the Manatee Club's center.

The Web streams raise awareness of the challenges manatees face and draw new supporters to the cause. The video also helps researchers monitor manatee health and conduct population surveys for the site. The feeds capture other residents of the habitat, as well, including birds, turtles, alligators and more.

“When people can watch manatees, they are better able to identify with their plight. Since most manatees bear the scars of boating injuries, their very presence is a testimony to their resilience in the face of great odds. Having this unique window into the manatee’s world has moved many to come to their aid. Still, much more help is needed as the need is great,” said Pat Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club.

The Save the Manatee Club plans to update its Web streams with an underwater HDTV 1080p camera for the next season.

The environmental movement has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1960s, and Earth Day is an excellent time to look at what's been accomplished and how we can do a better job protecting precious wildlife. These organizations and manufacturers such as Axis, are just a few of those working hard to ensure the Earth remains hospitable for all its inhabitants.