The Life-Saving Camera: Infrared Imaging Finds Sick Wolves, Spices the Summer Hike

By Braden Becker May 15, 2012

Healthcare isn’t the only market using technology to save lives.

For millions of kids across the country, summer means throwing curricula to the wind – or the bonfire if they’re graduating – and using warm weather to mask the chill of having to open a book next fall. But that doesn’t mean everyone else should follow suit, let alone stop learning.

A recent development in Wyoming now uses infrared cameras to save the lives of sick wolves in Yellowstone National Park, setting an amazing precedent for what outdoorspeople can discover with the same technology.

A population of wolves in the Yellowstone region currently suffers from a disease called sarcoptic mange, an infection that causes them to lose their hair, subsequent warmth and experience dermal compensation that depletes calories. “If they can’t replace the calories, they die,” Paul Cross, a disease ecologist at the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, told Wired Magazine.

As nice weather brings warm-blooded animals out more often, western scientists find the opportunity to use infrared imaging to detect infected wolves. Heat escaping through those bald patches in a wolf’s coat comes up in thermal projections, allowing researchers to estimate their body temperature and resulting caloric content relative to healthy canines.

Cameras are obviously much less invasive than traditional traps, collars or injections, so while Yellowstone-based scientists pay closer attention to animalistic disease, more common and user-friendly infrared devices can inspire enthusiasts to see nature through a new lens this season.

Brands such as Flir carry a line of thermographic cameras with inherent, high-end infrared capabilities that equip hikers with something no less portable than a typical disposable, and turn a scene of seemingly lifeless green into a forest of organisms you’d otherwise not know existed.

Apple and Android app markets haven’t wasted time with their own programs either, putting the powers of infrared in the palms of those seeking even more accessibility. As long as resolution isn’t a concern, why not leave the camera at home when going off the grid? High-rated smartphone apps like “Heat Seeking Thermal Camera & Infrared Camera” for the iPhone turn the woods into a frontier as organic as Avatar’s Pandora.

Technology is often considered a distraction from all things natural, but there are clear exceptions. Minding a balance between the things that turn a summer hike boring from those that save lives can put a little enjoyment back in education, and make wildlife twice as wild. 

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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