For my bat mitzvah, I adopted a whale named Onyx. They sent me a photo of her tail so that I could recognize her, but I prudently left that at home when I went on a whale-watching trip. Even to a tween, it was absurd to think that it would be possible to run into my Onyx in the vast ocean.
Too bad I came of age before the Internet did. In the past few years the idea of keeping tabs on a favorite animal in the wild has morphed from fantastical to downright reasonable. Eagle cams, otter cams, penguin cams—there are live streaming surveillance videos of all kinds of animals, letting us peek into their worlds both wild and enclosed. I can watch a forest in Kenya, a tundra in Churchill, Canada, and the ocean from a beluga boat.
Or I could adopt a northern bald ibis (say, the one named Idefix, presumably after the French version of Asterix’s nature-loving pet dog) from the Waldrappteam in Austria, and watch its movements via a live tracking app. If I wanted to, I could drive to my bird's latest location in the hopes of getting a glimpse. This summer, a group of German school kids did just that, using the same app to follow a group of migrating white storks for several days.
Waldrappteam app users don't even need to visit the animals in person; they can see photos and read about the individual animals's personalities right there on the screen. (They can also submit their own photos and observations, which is what the institute is really hoping for with this project.) The head of the Waldrappteam, conservationist Johannes Fritz, told me that he thinks of the award-winning Animal Tracker app, developed by the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology, as the start of a new kind of zoo in which people can get to know animals in their own element.