Hensoldt technologies safeguard endangered toads

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Hensoldt has joined forces with Nature Connect, a non-profit organisation committed to preserving wildlife, on a project aimed at safeguarding the endangered western leopard toad species – these unique amphibians are now being protected by the watchful eyes of smart camera solutions engineered, donated and installed by Hensoldt.

Western leopard toads reside exclusively in the coastal lowlands of South Africa’s Western Cape and face numerous threats, including habitat loss, pollution, predation and busy roads during their annual mating migration, Hensoldt said in a statement. Urbanisation has severed their natural habitat, compelling hundreds of western leopard toads to embark on a perilous journey across a busy stretch of road each spring, to reach wetlands where they can mate and lay their eggs. Tragically, many toads are killed by cars during this journey.

Initial efforts to protect these toads involved conservationists and volunteers keeping guard alongside the road, and assisting toads to cross. These efforts disrupted traffic and also took place at night, endangering the lives of the volunteers. Furthermore, interacting with these toads requires a permit, as they are a protected species.

In response to this crisis, Nature Connect initiated a project to build special tunnels, also known as bio-ducts, designed specifically to facilitate the safe passage of amphibians beneath the road. These tunnels, equipped with guiding walls, help direct the toads during their migration, reducing the risk of casualties. To ensure and monitor the success of the project, volunteers were still required to manually track the toads’ movements and their utilisation of the tunnels.

To enhance the project’s efficacy, Hensoldt designed a camera solution that is deployed at the tunnel entrance and exit areas. These cameras capture images of the toads, which are then analysed by artificial intelligence to identify individual toads by species, gender, size and unique markings. This innovation provides invaluable insights into the toads’ behaviours, movement patterns, and their utilisation of the tunnels, Hensoldt said. It also aids in monitoring population dynamics and the effectiveness of conservation measures.

“We are engineering for nature,” said Warren Ingram, acting Chief Technology Officer at Hensoldt’s Optronics business unit in South Africa. “It is part of our DNA at Hensoldt to engineer solutions that shape the world we live in. We are driven to innovate and create technologies that detect and protect,” said Ingram.

Over the past year, the project has expanded significantly. Additional efforts include the installation of road signs, protective fences, and more tunnels to ensure safe crossings for the toads. Community awareness initiatives have also been implemented to engage the local population in toad conservation efforts.

“Initiated in February 2023, this project aims to revolutionise western leopard toad conservation by harnessing innovative tools, including Hensoldt’s cutting-edge optical devices, to gather crucial scientific data. Beyond the breeding season, Hensoldt continues to collaborate in analysing images using artificial intelligence, identifying individual toads and employing near-infrared technology to minimise disruption during migration,” the company said.