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This Digital Life: Live feed for dinner time at the zoo


Screen stars: London Zoo has real-time footage on YouTube of three otters

Screen stars: London Zoo has real-time footage on YouTube of three otters

Getty Images/iStockphoto



Getty Images/iStockphoto

Screen stars: London Zoo has real-time footage on YouTube of three otters

London Zoo has teamed up with Google and, through using new TV technology, is giving animal lovers all over the world a round-the-clock view of some of its adorable creatures. Katie Wright reports.

A trio of otters are lying in a row on a bed of straw, wriggling and snuggling so adorably that you would think it had been staged.

But no, this is a live feed from the infrared-lit enclosure at London Zoo, broadcast for all to see on YouTube (www.youtube.com/zslvideo) as part of a project testing a new technology, which could in future be used as a vital tool to protect endangered species in the wild.

How? Here's where it gets a bit technical. The Zoological Society of London has teamed up with Google to use the gaps between digital TV frequencies, called television white spaces, or TVWS, to wirelessly transmit live video on the internet, with Google's Spectrum Database making sure that there's no interference with the existing channels.

It's hoped that, one day, TVWS can be used to transmit footage from remote areas, even through dense forests or foliage, so conservationists can monitor species and habitats from a distance.

"Melting sea ice, population numbers, migratory patterns, sophisticated poaching techniques ... we could gain an insight like never before, collating data that can help us learn and develop new strategies for vital conservation," says Alasdair Davies from the ZSL conservation technology unit.

As well as otters, the spotlight has been turned on the zoo's mob (that's the official term) of meerkats and the somewhat camera-shy family of five Galapagos tortoises.

The ultimate aim is to integrate the TVWS into the "Instant Wild" system, which lets members of the public help to identify creatures captured on camera in the wild. Is that looking likely?

"The trial has been a great success," Alasdair says. "The cameras and live feed have performed well, even in the high winds and stormy weather recently.

"We're really excited to be using the technology in our field work now that is has been proven in central London."

It's proven popular with the public, too, as Alasdair says: "We have had a few thousand people watch the feeds so far and have a small, yet dedicated group of regular viewers that are enjoying watching the otters curl up for the night or keeping watch to see if they can spot the tortoises out and about."

The trial will run up until the end of this year, so there are just two months left in which to catch the strangely addictive sight of snoozing otters spooning each other.

My advice is to tune in immediately. Remember, you're not procrastinating, you're actually helping endangered animals.

Belfast Telegraph