Around 70 percent of worldwide epidemic diseases, such as Sars, West Nile virus or bird flu, are the result of animal-human contact. In 2017 the ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) Initiative will aim to observe global migratory movements of small animals through a wildlife receiver in space. Miniature transmitters will make it possible to track small flying animals and therefore limit the spread of these diseases, benefitting both human and wildlife.
Small birds, butterflies, bees and fruit bats will be fitted with tiny radio transmitters and tracked throughout their lifetimes from space when a dedicated wildlife radio receiver is fitted to the International Space Station. Initially, ICARUS scientists will use 5G transmitters, approximately the size of a penny, and in the future much smaller ones will make it possible to follow small insects.
Being able to track birds and insects is now seen as vital tool for conservation as well as a benefit for human health, which is increasingly linked to the movement of animals and people. As an added bonus, because animals are known to sense imminent earthquakes, birds and other animals living near disaster-prone zones fitted with transmitters could give people an extra five-hours warning of a disaster.
Gaby is a wildlife documentary producer with broadcast credits on BBC, National Geographic, Discovery and PBS.
Martin Wikelsk, Chief Strategist, ICARUS