From AI to Drones, Smart Technology is Firing Up Wildlife Conservation Globally

In 2015, the company Dimension Data teamed up with CISCO to launch Connected Conservation, a programme to protect the world’s endangered wildlife population through technology. Their pilot project was at South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where poachers were a great threat to the rhino population. By 2017, rhino poaching in the sanctuary was reduced by a whopping 96% – a resounding success that has resulted in the expansion of this programme to Kenya, Zambia and Mozambique this year.

This amazing conservation effort was made possible with a combination of technologies like digital data mapping of tourist traffic, thermal imaging, closed circuit TV cameras, biometrics, connection of rangers via multiple devices, the use of IoT (the Internet of things) to share and control information, and cloud backup of all the data. The entire fence line of the park was equipped with sensors and a strong Wi-Fi network ensured that any suspicious movement was immediately notified to the rangers.

Elsewhere in the world, too, technology is proving to be a handy collaborator in wildlife conservation. In June in Cambodia, for instance, the conservation outfit Global Park Defence System set up by Wildlife Alliance, a global conservation network, saved a critically endangered pangolin from being poached when the rangers got alerted of suspicious movement by a hidden camera. Pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world and some species are critically endangered.

But it’s not just the pangolins that are at risk here. Over the last six years, Wildlife Alliance has removed 109,217 snares (traps that can injure or kill anything from elephants to mice) from a single park in Cambodia: an alarming number that only highlights the need for the protection of wildlife in this region.

Connected Conservation is now in talks with some state governments in India to protect the endangered Asiatic lion and the tiger. Their approach to technology in conservation efforts takes a step away from trackers and microchips for animals. Instead, they focus on tracking the movement of people coming in and out of wildlife parks to avoid human-wildlife conflict and poaching. One cannot help but wonder if such use of technology could have prevented the loss of life, both animal and human, in the Avni tiger-killing case.

The use of technology in wildlife conservation is not new. In India, technology has earlier revived the tiger population of Panna National Park, where poachers had finished the entire tiger population in 2009. There was not even one tiger left in Panna, and India cut a sorry figure in the international community. Wildlife conservationists then introduced tigers from neighbouring parks like Kanha and Bandhavgarh into the park and put trackers on the tigers to save them from poachers. Today, Panna has over 20 adult tigers and several cubs, making it one of India’s best conservation success stories.

The exciting future

It is now time for next-gen technology, which interferes less with the animal and protects from a distance. Satellite imaging is one such option. After successfully using Google Earth’s imaging to save tigers in Sumatra, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been using Google Earth to help people track their work and learn about endangered species and their habitats. Drones can help with aerial review of animals without disturbing them, too, but some animals are shy and are not easy to spot, which is when thermal imaging steps into the fray, providing a more accurate picture of animal movement, especially in the dark when poachers are most likely to strike.

Artificial Intelligence has also come to the aid of the wild, with bots and algorithms combing the internet for data such as animal sightings and other useful information that can help protect threatened species. In Tasmania, drones, IoT and AI have come together to save eagles from hitting wind turbines, remotely shutting down a turbine at the slightest risk of a collision. (This is a double bonus as the wind turbines also provide clean energy!)  

All sorts of exciting possibilities exist today – including the use of technology and science to fake elephant tusks to reduce the poaching, as well as using acoustics to protect marine wildlife—and surely more will come in the future with the advancement of technology. Technology giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba, eBay and more are doing their bit by forming a global alliance with the WWF, TRAFFIC (a monitoring network) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to stop illegal wildlife trafficking online. They have taken a pledge to reduce online trafficking by 80% in the next two years. Perhaps we can be a little optimistic of the future after all – perhaps, in the future, we won’t ever have to debate again if we humans have indeed wiped out 60% of the world’s animal species.

Source: The Times Of India