First-of-its-kind Tech Challenge Spurs Innovations to Fight Human Wildlife Conflict

November 1, 2017 - World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and WILDLABS awarded over $65,000 to the winners of the organizations’ first-ever international Human Wildlife Conflict Tech Challenge. British conservation technologist Alasdair Davies and the Dutch team of Laurens de Groot and Tim van Dam will receive nearly $35,000 to further develop and field test their solution for human-wildlife conflict.

WWF and WILDLABS initiated the challenge in July 2017, calling on technology developers, engineers, designers and nature lovers to find a new way to help minimize conflict between people and wildlife. As people continue to move into natural habitats, conflict can occur over the damage caused by wildlife to livestock and property. People can also be injured or killed in attacks by wild animals. In India alone, 1,200 people lost their lives in clashes with wildlife between 2014 and 2017. In return, hundreds of animals have been killed in defense or retaliation.

The two winning applications were chosen from 47 innovative ideas from 14 countries to help solve the increasing confrontations between people and wildlife such as tigers, polar bears and elephants. An international panel of human wildlife conflict and technology experts assessed the feasibility of the proposals. 

Detection of carnivores

Davies, of the Arribada Initiative in the UK, created an innovative warning system aimed at the early detection of carnivores, like polar bears and tigers. It uses a clever combination of traditional infrared sensors and thermic sensors capable of discriminating between species, allowing it to alert people to the presence of a specific animal, but not when a human or a dog passes.

"This affordable tool uses infrared sensors to detect the unique body heat and shape of polar bears and tigers, which then sends an alert to locals of the approaching carnivore,” said Stephanie O’Donnell, Community Manager, WILDLABS. “By offering more precise discrimination between species detected by the system, the frequency of false alarms will be reduced and enhance the sense of security of people living near tigers, polar bears or other carnivores.”

Improving effectiveness of electric fences

De Groot and Van Dam, of ShadowView Foundation in the Netherlands, aim to reduce conflicts between people and elephants with their proposal based on the wireless LoRaWAN™ (Long Range Wide Area Network) telecommunication technology, to which a variety of sensors can be linked that detect animal presence and power leaks in electric fences that are currently used to keep out elephants. Alarms linked to the sensors alert people when a fence has been damaged or broken by elephants by setting off buzzer flashlights or sending SMS messages to villagers.

Both proposals will be tested in India in 2018. Since the proposals are complementary and can reinforce each other’s effectiveness, the developers are encouraged to collaborate. Field testing of the winning proposals can be followed on WILDLABS.

“For the Asian elephant case, testing the winning innovations in Assam, India, provides an exciting opportunity to see how the two tools might work together for maximum impact and for conflict situations related to other species as well,” said Nilanga Jayasinghe, Senior Program Officer for Asian Species, WWF. “By combining these ideas, we can develop a comprehensive solution to benefit more species and communities.”

Finding technological answers to a deadly serious problem

The number of deadly encounters of people and wild animals such as tigers, elephants and polar bears is growing. This is due in large part to shrinking natural habitat for these species as human settlements and activities expand. As a result, the lives of people as well as wildlife are being lost, while great damage is being done to property, livestock and crops.

It is more important than ever to find solutions to this problem. Although there are currently a number of measures and tools to prevent human-wildlife conflict (ranging from the use of electric fences to deep trenches, chilli bombs, bees, fire crackers and flashlights to improving education land use planning), they are not effective or timely enough to prevent interactions between humans and wildlife from escalating into full conflict.

By putting the problem to engineers, designers and nature lovers from around the world, WILDLABS and WWF are harnessing the combined skills, knowledge and ingenuity of the global community to help solve this pressing conservation problem.