Looking at nature through a new lens

In Nepal, WWF’s Sabita Malla tested Google Glass to help rhino conservation

There I was, perched on the back of an elephant, scouring the heart of Nepal’s famous Chitwan National Park on a mission to test a new technology to help save this threatened species.

A rhino mother and her calf ambled into the grassland, right on cue and into the frame of my Google Glass.

As a Senior Research Officer for WWF Nepal, it’s part of my job to try, test and use the best science and tools available to help my country remain a refuge for rhinos, tigers, elephants and so many other facets of nature. I’m always excited by the potential that new technologies like Google Glass to improve the efficiency of our vital conservation work.

WWF was invited to be a Glass Explorer last year through the initial Giving Through Glass program. We were able to work closely with a developer to create Field Notes. This custom-built Glassware provides biologists a tool for recording field data to support Nepal’s ID-based rhino monitoring program.

A task once requiring pen, paper and a fine sense of balance when perched on elephants is now a hands-free experience. Field Notes helped me record observations in the field, GPS locations, and photos and videos like rhinos in their habitat.

Return of the unicornis
Greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) are making a comeback in Nepal thanks to the efforts of the government and the support of local communities. WWF has been part of this fragile success story since the 1960s when fewer than 100 rhinos were left in the entire country. The national rhino census in 2011 found 534 rhinos with most of them in Chitwan National Park.

These gains could easily be reversed by wildlife crime and the past few years have not been easy for rhinos in other parts of the world. Consider the sharp escalation of rhino poaching in South Africa and the extinction of Vietnam’s Javan rhinos, all to meet a growing demand for rhino horns.

Conservation on the ground takes a lot of work, a tremendous amount of dedication and a true passion for nature. My experience with Google Glass allowed me to explore a new field of opportunity and I can’t wait to see where the future takes us.

Learn more about WWF's work in the Eastern Himalayas.

Sabita Malla, WWF-Nepal’s Senior Research Officer, has led a series of challenging and successful wildlife monitoring and research operations some of them being the tiger and prey monitoring in Nepal, Nepal’s first satellite telemetry system to monitor tigers in the wild, ID-based rhino monitoring program, ecological studies of critically endangered gharial crocodile and assessments of corridors in Terai Arc Landscape. Malla was a recipient of a WWF Russell Train grant in 2012 to attend the Spatial Ecology, Geospatial Analysis and Remote Sensing course at Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in the US.