World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today announced the successful first-year results of testing tech solutions to help detect and deter wildlife crime as part of its Google Global Impact Award.
Working closely with the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) over the past year, WWF demonstrated innovative methods to protect Africa’s valuable wildlife from poachers, including unpiloted aircraft providing night vision from the air for on-the-ground ranger patrolling, electronic animal tracking devices and specialized ground-based sensors connected by a secure digital communications network.
Crawford Allan, lead of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project at WWF, was in Namibia for the testing, and noted, “I was inspired by what the Global Impact Award allowed WWF and MET to accomplish, we broke new ground using technologies that have never been integrated before that provide a powerful wildlife protection solution.”
Illegal wildlife trade, estimated to be worth up to $10 billion annually, is emptying forests, landscapes and oceans of its rare creatures. An estimated 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Africa in 2012, and in 2013 1,004 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone to feed this trade.
Field testing took place in two National Parks in Namibia in November 2013 to assess the technologies and their capabilities when applied in integrated configurations to improve protection. MET, WWF and a range of experts had collaborated for months to determine which tech to deploy and how they could be integrated. Among them:
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): More than one system, including the Falcon UAV, were selected to demonstrate anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring capabilities. Trials included optimizing day and night surveillance flights, poaching scenario testing and endurance/resilience testing. MET has decided to use the Falcon systems strategically in all the rhino and elephant areas in Namibia.
- Wildlife tracking: Radio-frequency identification chips have been implanted in black rhinos by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism that allow remote tracking of animal movements. Tagged wildlife were picked up by the UAVs during aerial surveillance. All of the technology was integrated as part of an overall monitoring and surveillance system.
- Ground based sensors: A sophisticated water point protection system with real-time secure communications via a radio-mesh network was piloted.
- Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART): The data from the UAVs and wildlife location information were integrated into SMART. SMART allows easy cataloging of UAV patrol data, including aerial images and detected wildlife, in a searchable format with powerful reporting features.
- Affordable Animal/Patrol Tracker Prototypes: Units designed for wildlife patrols that come into contact with a cellular network were programmed and left in Namibia for further applications. Sample data received from tracking devices mounted on patrol vehicles was logged in the SMART database.
MET's Chief Conservation Scientist for Wildlife Research and National Rhino Coordinator Pierre du Preez coordinated integrated technology field trials with WWF. He agreed that technology is very important and provides a distinct advantage, but only when combined with well-trained rangers on the ground able to respond rapidly to the data coming in from technology systems.
With active communal conservancies, strong monitoring and enforcement, and technology tools, Manie le Roux, head of Central Parks for the MET and a veteran of rhino conservation, is confident it will be “increasingly difficult for poachers to score successes in Namibia.”