Whether in the air or on land, using thermal technology is a great way to spot animals that may have otherwise been completely hidden.
Fans of the BBC show Countryfile may have spotted thermal imaging cameras in action on an episode based in the Humber area; on this episode the show's presenter used thermal imaging systems as a tool to track deer, using both a in-vehicle thermal imaging camera and a helicopter-mounted thermal system to track the heat signatures of animals in woodland areas.
The show also spotlighted the use of nightvision equipment which, despite looking quite similar to thermal vision, is an entirely different thing altogether. Whereas nightvision can be used to see through the night it still suffers greatly from the fact it needs some form of visible light to work. This means nightvision system's efficiency can be often impaired, and its not always possible to get a decent image. In comparison a thermal imaging camera requires absolutely no visible light to work, and they work instead by tracking the infrared emissivity of an object, and replicate this thermal signature as an image.
In the case of Countryfile, using a thermal imaging system allowed the users to accurately track the thermal output of deer from a distance. At the start of the piece the presenter used a thermal camera in a vehicle to track animals and here they were able to accurately spot objects as small as a couple of hares through complete darkness at a great distance. She also then took to the skies to join the RAF for a thermal training mission where they track deer for local conservationists - here she was able to clearly spot thermal signatures across a massive area, with the thermal signature of the animals clearly contrasting against the backdrop of the fields and other woodland areas.
In reality the RAF uses thermal imaging systems to spot and rescue people who might be injured. The thermal camera is able to spot the thermal signature given off by the person who needs help, decreasing the time greatly it takes to find a missing person and offer aid. In dangerous areas, this can often be the difference between life and death.
The military also uses thermal imaging camera systems regularly to track the thermal signatures of those they are engaging. The police uses similar technology to track criminals from the air, with regular updates relayed to ground police forces in order to make sure that hidden criminals can be spotted. Using a thermal camera in this way allows the police to track criminals through foliage and other weather conditions, making a much more efficient police force overall.
In the case of tracking wildlife, thermal imaging systems are rapidly becoming a popular tool for wildlife enthusiasts. Their ability to see through complete darkness, combined with their silent running capabilities and their ability to instantly display the heat signature of an animal that might have otherwise remained hidden make them one of the best tools for tracking and locating animals such as deer no matter the weather conditions or the density of foliage in an area of the woods.
FLIR, one of the world's premier manufacturers of thermal imaging cameras, recently invented a range of thermal cameras built for use in wildlife tracking. Known as FLIR Scout, these thermal imaging systems are handheld, portable units that can be used to track animals over a great distance.