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Using technology to protect our wildlife and forests

Using technology to protect our wildlife and forests

February 15 2016

By Jess Dillon

The natural world is under constant threat as the human population grows. As a species, we exploit so many of the planet’s resources, hunting rare animals into extinction and disrupting natural ecosystems. If we live in an urban centre, the problem can seem distant to us, until stories like that of Cecil, the lion killed by a poacher in July 2015, hit the headlines. Cecil’s death was cruel and senseless, but it wasn’t in vain: he raised awareness of the issue globally, and allowed us to channel our anger into positive ventures to protect endangered species.

This is what Protect, who developed RAPID, has been doing for over 15 years. RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device) is a collar that monitors the heartbeat and GPS location of the animal wearing it. If there are signs of stress, the Protect team activate the collar’s inbuilt camera to see what the issue is. If there is any suspicion of poaching, a ground force is quickly deployed and can be at the exact location in minutes.

The technology has been successful in initial tests on rhinoceroses in South Africa, where poaching of rhinos has increased from 13 in 2007 to 749 in 2015.  Thanks to projects like RAPID, there has been a fall in the number of rhinos poached since 2014, but it is still a long way to go before poaching is eliminated. Conservation groups like Protect continue to have a lot to do to keep these endangered animals safe and make sure the statistics don’t rise again. This is why we are proud to showcase their work via the 2015 NT100, and we hope that they receive continued support from the public via online donations.

Another NT100 project looking out for the interests of threatened wildlife is the Instant Detect anti-poaching camera trap system, created by The Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Unlike RAPID, which is attached to individual animals, Instant Detect is a camera system installed in the field. Seismic and magnetic ground sensors measure activity on the ground and detect the presence of humans, triggering an alarm that activates the cameras. Data collected and processed is then sent via satellite in real-time to human responders who can quickly assess the situation and send out a ground team if poaching is detected. The system was recently used by ZSL in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service to tackle rhino poaching there, and in Antarctica to monitor a group of Adelie Penguins.


Image courtesy of Instant Detect

Instant Detect also has a crowdsourcing element which empowers anyone anywhere to get involved. Simply download ZSL’s Wild iPhone app to access the live camera feeds and help the wildlife surveillance operation, easing some of the pressure on ZSL’s conservation team and exerting extra pressure on poachers.

Global Forest Watch (GFW) is another project highlighted in our 2015 NT100. They use satellite technology to protect the planet by monitoring forests, watching out for illegal felling and burning. Using high resolution aerial imagery from NASA satellites as well as information from forest rangers and conservationists on the ground, the team at GFW have created a comprehensive database and a map of the world’s forests. With monthly updates, it is as close to real-time as possible. The information collected by GFW is freely available and is invaluable when it comes to exerting pressure on governments, lobbying for change and helping indigenous populations to fight for their lands.

GFW also has a crowdsourcing element, and users can add to the maps, upload images and share information on their local forests.


Image courtesy of Global Forest Watch

When it is human activities threatening the survival of endangered animals and ecosystems, it is heartening to think that human activities from people like the teams behind RAPID, Instant Detect and Global Forest Watch, could be what saves them. We were certainly inspired by the innovative ways they have all applied technology to provide clever solutions to these global challenges.

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