Air Force wants acoustic sensors to help save the squirrels

Tracking system will help Edwards AFB comply with Endangered Species Act

You might not think squirrels are a big concern of the Air Force. But the military branch is required to comply with the Endangered Species Act while testing and evaluating new military aircraft and systems, activities that can include bombing the heck out the landscape. And that’s where the squirrels come in.

Unsurprisingly, military strikes are not conducive to the well-being of the threatened Mohave ground squirrel, which makes its home in Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert. Finding and avoiding the critters is a time- and labor-intensive task, and expensive to boot.

To address the issue, as well as limit its destruction of other sensitive species, the Air Force is seeking acoustic sensor technology to locate, identify and track the squirrels, and develop an activity map with frequency and location information that researchers can use for study.  

Specifically, the Air Force is seeking ruggedized, field-portable, acoustic fingerprinting technology with a location accuracy of within two meters. The unit must be able to withstand temperatures ranging from 0 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 50-mph wind gusts in the desert. Plus it needs to be able to record at least two weeks’ worth of data.

Today, acoustic fingerprinting is mainly used for birds and animals such as whales and dolphins. However, most animals have at least some unique sounds for activities such as danger signals and mating calls.

The nocturnal Mohave squirrels, which spend much of their time underground or flying, are not so easy to see but are “tremendously talkative animals, which should make them easy to track with sound, reported Popular Science.

More than 300 endangered plant and animal species live on the base, reported Wired magazine.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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