The London-based team took the contest's £5000 prize with their proposal for an automated mink eradication device. Ecosulis will now collaborate with Citizen Zoo to develop their concept further.
A proposal for an automated mink eradication device has helped Citizen Zoo win the inaugural Ecosulis Tech Contest. The first prize of £5000 was awarded to the team at the beginning of August.
"We are thrilled to have won," says CEO Lucas Ruzo. "This prize will really help us to develop new ways of dealing with pest species effectively and at scale. We look forward to the day when our work supports practical rewilding efforts across the United Kingdom."
The idea for the Citizen Zoo submission came about when the team began a water vole reintroduction project along a stretch of the River Thames in London. Part of this work involved the trapping and (humane) shooting of pest species such as mink.
"This whole pest eradication exercise was time consuming, expensive and frankly very unpleasant," explains Ruzo. "It inspired us to conceive of a system that was more effective and automated, and which could be deployed easily at scale throughout the UK."
Standard mink eradication traps being tested at the Citizen Zoo water vole reintroduction site.
Judging the Ecosulis Tech Contest were Michael Brown, Founder and Managing Partner at New York-based venture capital firm Bowery Capital, Stephanie O'Donnell, Community Manager at WILDLABS.NET, and Professor Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford's Department of Computer Science.
"We were really impressed with the standard of all the submissions, which made judging all the more difficult," says Brown. "I think it shows that the intersection of conservation and technology is a really fertile space right now. There are a lot of start-ups out there that could make a real difference to practical conservation if they received the right support."
"American mink are an invasive species in the UK and can be a significant barrier to reintroducing native species - particularly the water vole - to aquatic ecosystems," adds Stephanie O'Donnell. "If and when this technology is commercialised, it would allow rewilding practitioners to scale up their efforts to remove this species from the landscape and make space for native wildlife to flourish."
Ecosulis will now help Citizen Zoo to develop their technology further, including testing, field trials and work-to-scale deployment. The London-based start-up is currently putting together a detailed workplan.
"We are looking forward to applying our conservation technology expertise," says Ecosulis Biodiversity Lead Vance Russell. "The aim is to bring the mink eradication device to fruition in the field as soon as possible."
Conservation technology: a game changer
The growing sophistication of today's conservation tools - from DNA sequencers and camera traps to GIS systems and photo sharing apps - is revolutionising how we research, monitor and restore our natural environment. Developments in areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the Internet of Things and the blockchain suggest further radical change.
To maximise its effectiveness, conservation technology needs to be as collaborative as possible. Tech start-ups, policy makers, NGOs, big business, the finance sector, local communities and environmental consultancies all need to come together to build a conservation technology community that identifies challenges and develops and deploys innovative solutions as rapidly as possible.
It is in this spirit of collaborative innovation that Ecosulis established the Rewilding Tech Challenge . The overall aim of the contest is to drive the development of conservation technology and enterprise hubs which can catapult solutions into the field. The challenge was open to any UK-based individual, team or company willing to work with Ecosulis on the development of rewilding-related technology.