Technology in Conservation

By Cheyenne Johnson, Managing Editor

gadgets on floorboards
Technology is a vital tool in the conservation effort.

The Tool Set of a Ranger

The fate of the world’s animals is getting technical. Conservationists around the world are joining in the with the modern era to protect the animals most threatened by poachers and wildlife trafficking.

A ranger’s set of tools can vary widely across location and the needs of the conservation site. Cameras, maps, and binoculars are staples. As time has gone on and the job’s become more dangerous, body armor, knives, and guns have joined in the repertoire. Boots, rope, overnight tents, night vision goggles, bush-clearing, measuring, and firefighting equipment, and light building tools for reconstructing fences and fixing pathways all add to the weight of the ranger’s pack.

Some technical innovations help to lighten the load.

Tech Tools of Conservation

1. Camera Traps: These cameras are a staple of conservation and environment monitoring efforts, as well as of families trying to figure out what animal keeps eating their flower beds. When an animal moves in front of the motion sensor, the camera begins photographing or recording. Camera traps can also employ thermal imaging or acoustic sensors that activate whenever a particular sound is in the area. The ease of installation and relatively low cost make camera traps a mainstay in the conservation effort.

A tiger bathing
Camera traps make it possible to capture photos we otherwise wouldn't be able to.

2. Aerial Support: Amazon has them and so too do conservationists. Drones are the flying darlings of the conservation effort, allowing protectors to see across a range of their sites. From hundreds of feet up, drones help in the hunt for nearby animals, and guide rangers in the right direction. Even farther up, satellites provide a variety of tools that conservationists can use to better protect these threatened animals.

A drone crossing a field
Drones can provide aerial support for rangers.

3. SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool): SMART uses maps, cross-communication, organizational, and management tools to help coordinate protection efforts. By providing a centralized location, SMART makes it easy to direct resources towards areas that need it most and to oversee the effectiveness of those efforts.

4. Cellphones: Cellphones and their ability to communicate across distances have had an immeasurable effect on the conservation effort. In some areas, they allow rangers to coordinate from the ground in real time, providing an up-to-date understanding of the space and the challenges it faces. While not all areas have the kind of mobile service that allows this kind of communication, cell service is becoming more widespread every day and conservationists are ready to use it to their advantage.

5. Online Education and Resources: The internet provides multiple tools rangers and conservationists can use to make their jobs simpler and more efficient. Global Forest Watch offers real-time updates on the state of the world's forests. The non-profit organization NatureServe provides a consortium of conservation-related data, tools, and services. Google Earth Engine provides its users with a global perspective, including a timelapse feature, where users can see the change human habitation has had on the neighboring environment.

6. Artificial Intelligence (AI): While nothing can replace the effectiveness of a ranger on the ground, artificial intelligence can make their jobs easier. The Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS) employs AI to merge standard information about the area with information about past poaching events to predict future poaching locations and design patrol routes. While only one method, PAWS demonstrates the potential that AI has on the future of conservation.

The Future of Conservation

A ranger’s job is dangerous. In 2015, more than 100 rangers died in the line of duty according to the International Ranger Federation (IRF). Protecting our animals means protecting these rangers and providing them the tools needed to do their jobs safely and effectively.

While the newest gadget and tech tool can help, we can’t forget the basics. Too many conservation sites go without the health supplies, vehicles, weapons, shelters, boots, and drinkable water necessary to ensure the survival of themselves and the animals we protect.

Technology is not a solution. It’s a tool, and we must continue to support those who risk their lives to guard these precious animals.