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Listening to photos – revealing the hidden world of EDGE species

By on June 10, 2016 in Mammals, News

Today I stumbled across the work of Marc Anderson, a nature sound recordist based in Sydney, Australia.

Moments later I found myself on Sound Cloud listening to this track;

I would describe it as one of the wildest sounds I think I’ve ever heard, and a conversation soon broke out in the office as to how such a magnificent chorus of insects, birds and creatures that call Sarawak, Malaysia, their home could be so breath-taking when captured in a single recording.

Scrolling down, I could see that Mark has been busy. His numerous recordings span across the globe, from Thailand to Spain, Sri Lanka to Nepal. Take a moment to sit and listen to as many as you can, as it’s incredibly powerful stuff. It connects you to these wild, hidden places where many EDGE species call home in a unique and positive way.

As a Conservation Technologist at ZSL, I work on a project called Instant Wild. Instant Wild captures photographs from camera traps placed in the wild at conservation project sites and transmits them to a smart phone app for instant identification by users. It’s photographic at its core, but the potential to explode into video and audio recordings is just waiting to be unleashed. The restriction is usually power, internet connectivity or a factor of the two – however, the shear fascination today when listening to Mark’s recordings just reinforces the fact that by capturing audio and a photo, we can connect people to these wild spaces in incredibly exciting new ways.

Imagine for a moment that the following photo of a Sunda Pangolin was captured on camera and transmitted to your phone, but the audio was included and you could “listen” to the photo (and spend a moment dreaming and imagining the scene).

A sunda pangolin, Malaysia

Now listen to the audio clip above again at the same time.

“Listening” to the photo connects you to the scene. It helps you to imagine and sense the environment, and you’d be listening to the same 30 seconds when the pangolin slipped into view of the camera.

It’s hard to send video as video needs bandwidth and a good connection, so only certain places support this – however, photos and small audio clips are possible from poor connections, especially with solutions such as Instant Detect that offer satellite connectivity with a relatively slow, but globally accessible connection free from constraint. If we were to move to Mark’s advice and recommended equipment to capture true stereo with a relatively decent bit rate (we are transmitting the clip to space and back), wouldn’t it be fascinating to “listen” to the hidden world of EDGE species such as the pangolin for a good 30 seconds (or more) and reveal the sounds of the forest at the very point that each photo was captured, day or night, dusk or dawn. To listen to the scruffling of tiny feet, or the heavy breathing of a rhino looking back at you.

Imagine “listening” to this photo of a Black Rhino, EDGE species #11 captured on an Instant Wild camera trap.

Imagine "listening" to this photo of a black rhino
Imagine “listening” to this photo of a black rhino


Today, I realised that this needs to happen.

The magical homes of EDGE species should be available to everyone to listen to, if not as a timely reminder that we need to do all we can to protect their threatened ecosystems, but also as a powerful new medium as listening to photos is a wonderful thing indeed.

Alasdair Davies
Technical Specialist, Conservation Technology Unit, ZSL