Cincinnati Zoo collaborates with scientists to assess validity of remote infrared thermography

Leonor Wertheimer

The partnership will explore the benefits of utilizing remote infrared thermography for a variety of threatened or endangered species in zoos.

The Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden announced it will be cooperating with scientists from Woods Holl Oceanographic Institute (WHIO)—a private nonprofit research and higher education facility dedicated to studying marine science and engineering—to prove the benefits of using remote infrared thermography (IRT) when performing noninvasive checkups.

“We are using thermal imaging to collect body temperature and heart/respiration rates on a variety of animals, including birds, reptiles, and mammals,” said Erin Curry, PhD, reproductive physiologist at CREW, in an organizational release. “At the same time, we are using traditional methods to obtain vital signs and comparing the results.”

Though IRT has been used and proven to be accurate when measuring heart rate in humans and large domestic animals, this will be the first time the technology is used to help threatened or endangered species. The team’s goal is to gather a minimum of 50 different animal species at the Cincinnati Zoo—accounting for variables such as fur length, head size, and the presence of fat and blubber— to validate the technology. Currently, the results are optimistic with heartrates authenticated in a gorilla, bongo, sloth, and tenrec.

“Once we validate it, we can use it in zoos for non-invasive health checks,” said Caroline Rzucidlo, MS, a PhD student in the MIT-WHIO Joint Program. “We also hope to attach it to a drone and fly it over wild populations of animals to get some basic health metrics without having to disturb them. We can compare those metrics over time to monitor animals’ responses to environmental changes.”

An additional goal for the team is to also use IRT for reproductive monitoring. According to the release, pregnancy diagnosis, estrus detection, and changes in testicular thermal may offer context into the reproductive status, improve animal management, and deliver more accurate timing of semen collection procedures and artificial insemination.

“Projects like this reinforce the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s reputation as a global leader in innovative conservation research,” said Thane Maynard, Cincinnati Zoo director. “I hope this technology will eventually be used to improve the health of animal populations all over the world, in zoos and in the wild!”


  1. Cincinnati zoo tests new technology to assess animal health from a distance. Published August 16, 2021. Accessed August 31, 2021.

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