Implementing smarter tracking and monitoring for wildlife protection
Wildlife preservation is a dangerous, inefficient, and challenging profession. Over the past decades, traditional technologies used by preservationists have been advanced and new technologies added to augment the capacity of rangers while improving their safety. Technology used to outsmart hunters and trophy collectors has undergone rapid innovation to meet the challenges facing wild animals. Traditional monitoring techniques such as radio tagging and camera traps have been joined by newer surveillance methods employing satellite tracking, drones, IOT devices, and artificial intelligence—all to help save wildlife around the world.
New tagging and monitoring systems undoubtedly help conservationists gain a better understanding of animal behavior patterns and population density, but many systems are too expensive for already strapped budgets, and require manpower that does not exist to implement said updates.
The cause of poaching is clear: there is a market. Whether it is for trophies or traditional forms of medicine, poaching is a challenge not just abroad but also in the USA, from black bears and big horned sheep to sharks and deer, poaching is a problem across the US and globe.
The world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 elephants—was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011. Poaching threatens the last of our wild tigers that number around 3,890 (WWF).
The trafficking and unsustainable trade in wildlife commodities such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, tiger bone, bear bile, and rosewood are causing unprecedented declines in some of the world's most charismatic, as well as some lesser-known, wildlife species (TRAFFIC).
The 2016 UN estimate of the annual value of the illegal wildlife trade was determined to be between $7b-$23 (TRAFFIC).
Legal commercial hunters
Animal rights activists
Wildlife advocacy organizations
Animal protection groups
Firearm safety organizations
International law enforcement agencies
GPS App-Based Monitoring
There are free tools, like Cybertracker, that enable mobile apps for gathering GPS-linked data and visuals in the field. The software makes an in-depth analysis and monitoring easier and has been used to protect snow leopards in the Himalayas and turtles in the Pacific Ocean.
Open Source Tracking Platforms
In the U.S., Computer scientists at the University of Southern California have developed an open source digital tracking platform called SMART. This is linked to the AI-powered ‘Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security’ (PAWS) which randomizes ranger schedules to throw poachers off-balance and creates heat maps of poaching areas so local rangers can clear them of snares and traps.
Sophisticated audio gathering can add another layer to surveillance methods. In northern Brazil, Rainforest Connection supplies bio-acoustic technology to Tembé tribal rangers. The sensors pick up sounds of human activity (i.e. illegal logging, poaching) which are uploaded to the cloud and analyzed rapidly using machine learning to identify acoustic patterns before alerting rangers and local police. These real-time systems are collecting vital data on endangered wildlife. Rainforest Connection says its project in Ecuador covers 10,000 hectares of forest and uploads 1.8 gigabytes of data per day for scientists and conservationists to track animal populations.
Below the water, the Orcasound app enables citizen scientists to monitor the acoustic environment of the whales and report when they hear the orcas call, whistle, or click, or when they hear other interesting signals. Synergy between human and machine detection and classification will not only facilitate basic research into the communication and echolocation systems of fish-eating killer whales and other local marine species, but also will enhance many other research and educational activities to help the orcas recover.
Drone technology has already given a massive boost to wildlife defenders with its ability to capture video alongside infrared or thermal imagery at night time when poachers are most active. As autonomous networked drone technology becomes more widespread – with drones able to coordinate and communicate with each other – its sophisticated data gathering and surveillance value will increase. And it is this networked data approach that provides the most value in stopping the illegal wildlife trade.
Non-Intrusive Camera and Imaging Technology
At the Consumer Electronics Show 2019, a standout camera technology, a pencil-sized Trailguard AI camera from non-profit Resolve, uses Intel visual processing units to capture imagery and a data bank trained on hundreds of thousands of photographs, including different angles, poses, and contexts, to identify poachers. Trailguard batteries are estimated to last for 1.5 years in the wild and can transmit data through mobile networks, low-powered radio links, or satellite connectivity. This trained technology is more selective and passes on only those images most likely to contain poaching activity.
International Ranger Federation - https://www.internationalrangers.org/
Discovery Family of Networks - https://www.discovery.com/technology/technology-wildlife-protection
Giving Tech Labs team - giving.tech