Surrounding one’s self with several hundred species of wild animal from all corners of the world would normally present a serious and frightening safety risk for even the most intrepid thrill seeker. Yet we rarely think about safety when we step through the gates of our city’s local zoo. Behind the scenes, however, zookeepers work tirelessly to ensure a welcoming and danger-free experience while also looking after their own safety, as well as the well-being of the amazing creatures in their care. However, this does not mean that the experience always is without incident. National Geographic reports that from 1990 to 2016, 42 animals have died as the result of an escape or attack attempt. By contrast, 15 human lives were lost to zoo incidents in that same timeframe, along with 110 being injured.
Zoos must work tirelessly to prevent incidents that harm visitors, workers, or the animals themselves. For zoo teams looking to boost the overall safety, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a highly functional new option. Leveraging low power wide area (LPWA) networks to bring their system online, zoos may use sensors to monitor and manage everything from enclosures to the diet and nutrition of animals.
A Flexible Network for the Challenges of Zoos
Houstonia Magazine reports that the Houston Zoo – America’s second most visited zoo – covers 55 acres, while the zoo itself reports around 6,000 exhibits. The vastness of most zoos provides ample exigency for the upgrade to LPWA networks. While it certainly would be possible to connect a zoo’s many security systems with a cellular network or even wireless IoT, these systems often are cost prohibitive for nonprofit zoos as they require more intensive upkeep. Weighing cost considerations, along with the sheer footprint of most zoos, low power wide area (LPWA) networks may indeed be the perfect network option.
LPWA networks are powered by batteries that can last up to 10 years in the field. While traditional hardwire security systems attached to the zoo’s main power system go offline any time the power goes out, battery-powered LPWA networks remain in play no matter the conditions. LPWA networks are rugged enough for outdoor use and have an average range of two kilometers, according to IoT for All. Because information gathered by the network is simply fed back to the cloud and may be controlled by something as simple as a raspberry pi computer, it also is possible to check the network from anywhere. This means that even in a power outage, no information would be lost and any authorized personnel could access live data from the cloud from home or a backup location.
LPWA networks also are perfect for the multitude of safety applications in a zoo because there is no true limit to the number of sensors that may be added to the network. Although LPWA networks transmit information slower than other network options, they are perfect for providing real-time data for yes/no questions and testing thresholds. Integrity checks are easier because system administrators need not breach their own security system to check whether it is working, as one might do with a traditional electric alarm system. Instead, administrators may test the network simply by sending a simple query to ask whether the network is online.
Best of all, the system provides immediate notice when something goes wrong, sending out alerts via phones, tablets, or emails to facilitate a faster response.
Seamless Integration with Zoo Equipment
While each LPWA network is customized to the unique needs of the community or authority using it, zoos will want to look at two specific categories of IoT tools to add to their network: tools that make the zoo safer for visitors and employees and tools that will make the animals safer and feel more comfortable.
First, the zoo’s security team should consider simple open/close sensors for gates and enclosures. Affixed to any door, gate, lock system, or window, these sensors are able to tell zookeepers whether animals are safely enclosed or on the loose. Although the information these sensors transmits is very simple, they are a powerful security tool. Knowing exactly which animals are where at any given time could be particularly valuable in situations where animals must be contained quickly, such as in the event of an escape. Similarly, the network would provide a starting place for security checks if a visitor falls into a larger animal’s enclosure.
Zookeepers may want to consider food and water threshold monitors. The proper feeding of animals is critical to zoo security as hungry or thirsting animals present a greater safety hazard. Simple volume sensors can be affixed to any food or water trough and zookeepers may set a threshold for each, determining a minimum and maximum volume point at which the system will alert. Using machine to machine (M2M) connections on the LPWA network, these threshold monitors may be linked to trigger mechanisms on the feeding system itself. When food or water gets too low, the trigger may release a measured amount of food or water.
Other technologies can be added to the network, too. LPWA-enabled light-sensitive sensors can be added to a reptile exhibit to monitor and operate heat lamps. Similarly, thermometers in aquariums may be monitored to ensure the water is at an appropriate temperature for the creatures inside. Should the heat lamps or temperature in an exhibit turn off or drop too low, M2M links can, once again, be relied upon. In the case of a reptile exhibit, light sensors may be linked to heat lamps to turn the lamps back on. Likewise, the aquarium’s environmental controls may be linked to a digital thermometer so that the network instructs the environmental controls to adjust accordingly should the temperature fall too low or rise too high. While not directly related to human safety, these applications greatly shore up safety and comfort for your zoo’s animals.
Choosing Your Network Provider — Neo
Neo, powered by Aeris, is a trusted and experienced IoT network provider with customers across the country. Our commitment to customizable networks and superior customer service makes us an excellent IoT partner for zoos across the nation. We will work closely with your safety management team to identify potential barriers, map out a connectivity plan, and ensure the upkeep and workability of your network.