A drone flying in the sunset.

A drone in sunset sky

A drone flying in the sunset.

Photo by: GettyImages/Kittikorn Nimitpara

GettyImages/Kittikorn Nimitpara

How Technology is Transforming Wildlife Protection

By: Robin Fearon

Wildlife protection is a full-time 24-7 occupation. Park rangers in countries across the world must be alert to combat illegal poaching at any time of the day or night--especially when it comes to endangered species. Wild animals are not only hunted for food, their skin or feathers, but also for use in traditional medicines or simply as a trophy based on their rarity. Sadly, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $8-$10 billion each year.

Close-Up Of Owl Perching On Retaining Wall

A tagged Owl perched on a wall.

Photo By: GettyImages/Joseph Anthony for EyeEm

Sea Turtles

Endangered sea turtles off the coast of South Maui, Hawaii. Swimming over pristine coral reef underwater in the ocean.

Photo By: GettyImages/M Swiet Productions

Man with binoculars watching wild animals

Park ranger with binoculars watching hippos in the Akagera national park.

Photo By: GettyImages/narvikk

Two snow leopards cuddling

A father snow leopard cuddling with his daughter on a rock.

Photo By: GettyImages/Tambako the Jaguar

High Angle View of Flamingo in Lake

A tagged Flamingo stands in a lake.

Photo By: GettyImages/Smish Burge-Thompson for EyeEm

Salween River

The Salween River river on Ban Mae Sam Laep, Sop MoeiDistrict, Mae Hong Son province between Thailand and Myanmar border in twilight.

Photo By: GettyImages/Tieataopoon

Giraffe with ranger

A park ranger stands with a giraffe.

Photo By: GettyImages/Lingbeek

African Wild Dog

An African Wild Dog wearing a tracking collar.

Photo By: GettyImages/Marcel Brekelmans

So, it’s no surprise that the 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 our wildlife around the world. This new tagging and monitoring systems have undoubtedly helped conservationists gain a better understanding of animal behavior patterns and population density.

Smarter Tracking and 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.

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.

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.

In Myanmar, SMART support and additional training were given to the Karen people to establish the 2,100 square mile Salween Peace Park that aims to preserve community forests and ancestral lands in the face of multinational development. In Cambodia, PAWS anticipated poacher behavior from snare locations, local terrain, and road maps, leading to better poaching activity predictions and intelligently randomized patrols. The PAWS project could be introduced into 100 African and Asian sanctuaries by early next year and 300-600 worldwide by the end of 2020.

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.

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.

In life or death situations it is hoped, that the camera will help capture poachers before the killing starts. It is this type of technology that conservationists need to make their efforts count.

Next Up

Learn How Commercial Drones May Be Used in the Future

Ice cream delivery? Elephant poaching prevention? Learn all about future uses envisioned for commercial drones at Discovery.com.

Hyperloop: How Elon Musk’s Tube Travel Concept Works

Mostly likely, you've heard of the "hyperloop" in passing, but do you know what it is? Here, we explain Musk's vision for linking Earth’s cities using ultra-fast travel pods.

Satellite Saviors: How Earth-orbiting Sensors Can Help Save the Planet

Making the planet safer with Earth-orbiting technology

Shark Week: The Podcast - The Ocean Cleanup’s Mission to Eliminate a Garbage Patch Twice the Size of Texas

Luke Tipple is joined by lead ocean field scientist at The Ocean Cleanup, Matthias Egger, to discuss efforts to eliminate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Green Hydrogen Will Fuel the World’s Zero-Carbon Industries

One of the challenges in establishing a zero-emission green hydrogen network in the US is stabilizing supply and storage. Hydrogen (H2) is a carbon-free fuel and an $8 billion ‘H2 Hubs’ program from the Department of Energy aims to ramp up production. But keeping the industry environmentally neutral is difficult.

Curiosity Daily Podcast: Rapamycin For Rover, H-Fueled Flight, Mind-Controlled Arms

Today, you’ll learn about how a drug that helps in human organ transplants might be able to extend the lives of man’s best friend, the airline industry's potential but difficult switch to hydrogen fuel, and how a high school student is transforming prosthetics with brain waves.

Can this New Wetsuit Technology Protect Against Shark Bites?

Shark Stop is a wetsuit company working to connect environmentally-friendly resources with human and shark co-existence in the ocean. With a price point of around $569, the Shark Stop wetsuit aims to reduce the harm of shark bites using newly developed polymer fiber technology.

Shark Week: The Podcast – Cristina Zenato on Why Sharks are the Safest Animal to Interact With on the Planet

Luke Tipple is joined by Cristina Zenato, “shark whisperer,” professional diver, shark expert, and founder of People of the Water. They discuss shark personalities, cognitive instincts, and their memory passed through DNA.

Curiosity Daily Podcast: Hot Testes, Blasting Diabetes, Robo Fish Cleans Ocean

Come along with us to figure out how heating up testicles could be an effective male contraceptive, how ultrasounds might help us cure Type 2 diabetes, and how a robotic fish might soon clean our oceans.

Curiosity Daily Podcast: How Do Wild Animals Know What to Eat?

Learn why helping others feels like helping ourselves, how wild animals eat healthy, and how the Sahara feeds the Amazon.

Related To: