Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have enlisted the help of autonomous boats disguised as crocodiles to study hippo dung in Kenya's Mara River.
The boats are needed to do the work for scientists because hippos are very aggressive and actually kill more people each year than any other large African animal. To ensure the safety of researchers, three autonomous airboats will be used instead, which will also be disguised as crocodiles.
The research is needed because there are approximately 4,000 hippos living in the Mara region, and each deposits around 22 pounds of feces into the river each day. During high flow rates, the waste gets moved downstream. But during low flow rates, the waste stays at the bottom of the river, where bacteria feed on it. This bacteria consume oxygen while in the water during their metabolic process. Then, when the flow rate rises again, the water, which has now been depleted of oxygen, moves downstream and kills fish in large numbers.
This theory has yet to be confirmed, but it is still cause for worry for locals.
Each boat will have Android processors that can navigate the waters and also analyze the temperature, oxygen content and electrical conductivity of the water.
Check out the video below to see how a hippo reacts to the crocodile boats.