Quintin Kermeen Knows Tracking Technology
Telemetry Solutions, a tiny company with headquarters in Concord and an unlikely Oaklander at its helm, has made it big with wildlife tracking technology.
Photo by Stephen Texeira
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It was an accident of fate that Oakland resident Quintin Kermeen played a central role in the August National Geographic exposé about mass elephant killings and illegal ivory smuggling by African warlords.
Kermeen’s six-person company, Telemetry Solutions, designed and built the custom-made satellite and Internet-connected GPS trackers that investigative journalist Bryan Christy embedded inside fake elephant tusks to track them from the Central African Republic north into Sudan. Yet even though Telemetry Solutions has earned a global reputation in the niche world of wildlife-tracking technology, Kermeen, 51, never was wild about tracking animals or electronics.
“Telemetry, I’m not passionate about this stuff; that’s for sure,” Kermeen said during an interview in his humble and utilitarian office in an industrial office park in Concord. “It’s not like I go home and think about electronics. I have no electronics training.”
Indeed, Kermeen had lasted just 18 months at UC Berkeley before quitting to work in a motorcycle shop in San Francisco. The job allowed him to save money for a trip to Kenya, where he worked in the bush for six months for George Adamson, the British conservationist made famous in the book and movie Born Free.
“By that time, forget about going back to college,” Kermeen said. “That was not going to happen. My mind was totally readjusted.”
He had wanted to start a company offering motorcycle tours of California. But instead, after returning stateside, he fell into his line of work by working for his stepmother’s animal tracking technology company.
And then, at age 32, Kermeen launched a competing business. Thus did he embark on a nail-biting entrepreneur’s journey that at one point drove him to the brink of financial ruin.
But now, after making it nearly two decades in business, Kermeen is considered by field researchers to be a pre-eminent expert in the use of sensors for wildlife monitoring. This practice is playing an increasingly critical role in preserving species and helping conservationists protect ecosystems.
“They’re pretty well known in the wildlife ecology industry,” said Dan Foley, a professor of biology at Sul Ross State University in Del Rio, Texas. “Telemetry Systems seems to be at the cutting edge of making smaller and longer-lasting systems.”
Foley recently spent more than $20,000 to buy Wi-Fi enabled transponders from Telemetry that he attached to the backs of nine Rio Grande cooters—river turtles that he is studying in the crystal-clear Devil’s River in southern Texas. The species is a candidate for federal listing as threatened.
Kermeen has made similar devices for prairie chickens; San Joaquin kit foxes; 18-foot Burmese pythons invading the Everglades; and Australian quolls, which are carnivorous marsupials. Kermeen’s stated indifference doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about animals: It comes out in passing that he kept his kidney-diseased cat going for a last year of life with daily subcutaneous injections of fluids.
His primary motivation has simply been to survive as a business owner by solving the problems that his customers put in front of him. And that is something clients say he has done well.
“Quintin stands out because he hangs with you and makes sure that everything is working perfectly for you, or as perfect as you can get it,” said Mike Wallace, a veteran researcher with the San Diego Zoological Society, who uses custom GPS units from Telemetry that he attaches to the wings of condors.
“We could not have saved the California condor without radio telemetry and satellite telemetry,” Wallace said. “It’s an incredibly important tool.”
Devices Wallace bought from Telemetry Solutions, like those on Foley’s turtles, allow researchers to download data wirelessly just by getting close to the animals. Other Telemetry products enable satellite connections and downloading of data directly to the Internet. An Australian dingo researcher bought sensors that were solar powered and would drop off animals when given a remote command.