June 21, 2024

How Icarus almost lost his wings

Thousands of animal species migrate around the world, on and between the continents of our world. It has recently become possible to follow them from space. This would provide surprisingly new insights – from which people would benefit, too.

It is one of the largest behavioral science projects ever launched on Earth. Hundreds of thousands of animals are monitored during their migrations via satellite. Migratory birds, as well as bears, bees, turtles, bats and herds of migrating livestock. It’s called Icarus, and unlike its mythical predecessor, which came too close to the sun and collided with the sea, it’s always flying. The name stands for International Collaboration for Animal Research Using Space, led by Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Biology in Konstanz.

It was more than 20 years before Icarus took off. Years of tinkering, developing and crafting. Years full of joyful moments and devastating setbacks. In this book, he tells how Wikelski and his team helped Vision achieve a breakthrough. How was it possible to make the transmitters smaller and smaller so that the hummingbird could carry them without any problems. How the collaboration with the International Space Station (ISS) came about and why new types of small satellites are now being used to monitor animal migration. And how the Russian attack on Ukraine almost caused Icarus to lose its wings: From one day to the next, exchanges between scientists and their colleagues at the Russian space agency were blocked.

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The long road from concept to implementation looks like a technical thriller. But Wikelsky also adds entertaining and informative chapters from his research on Earth. Sometimes a stork plays the lead role, sometimes a baby sea lion, and sometimes Berta, the earthquake cow. It is becoming clear why linking global monitoring data – the “Internet of Animals” – is so important for protecting species and understanding the consequences of climate change.

Note: When choosing the title, one would have liked to get more inspiration from the publisher. Jurgen Nacott

Martin Wikelski
Internet of animals
What we can learn from the intelligence of the swarm of life
Malik, 320 p., 25 euros, –
ISBN 978-3-89029-561-9