Heal: Emerging technology making the world healthier

Could the Cloud Help Save Animal Populations?

Mobile technology and connectivity are helping scientists and citizens track the effect of human activities on wildlife and the environment.

The advances of human technology and the demands of a growing human population are taking a toll on the rest of our planet. With human encroachment, endangered animal populations continue to shrink, and our impact on the environment grows exponentially. A recent study showed that three-quarters of the planet’s surface is considered to be “under pressure” from human activity.

New technologies, such as the cloud, could address some of those problems. In particular, initiatives that take advantage of data collection and analysis could help us track animal populations and measure how their environmental surroundings are changing. They could also help inform decisions about infrastructure and urban planning.

One of the best parts? In some of those initiatives, anyone with a camera and an internet connection can help.

What’s in a Footprint?

Tracking and monitoring endangered animal species empowers us to preserve wildlife. There are, however, debates on how best to do so, particularly when the species is hard to capture or approach.

Luckily, endangered animals leave traces of their presence that are easy to observe: footprints. ConservationFIT uses software to analyze digital images of animal footprints and cross-reference new images with past data to identify the species, age, and gender of the animal that left the print. The software then applies that information to map out populations and predict their movement patterns. ConservationFIT is currently focusing on cheetahs, jaguars, and snow leopards with its partners in Brazil, Namibia, Mexico, and the U.S.

Awareness of those movement patterns is crucial to organizations establishing nature reserves, deflecting poachers, and encouraging wild populations to breed. And with smartphone technology and greater internet connectivity, everyday people who come across animal tracks can join the movement by taking pictures, uploading them to a database, and noting where they saw the tracks.

The Internet-Powered Shield

The primary threat to many endangered animal species is human poachers. In South Africa, for example, more than 1,000 rhinos were illegally poached in 2016. But local and international technology firms have partnered to experiment with a noninvasive way to protect local rhinos by layering technology-based safety solutions around a private reserve.

First, they installed connectivity and Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the reserve. Then they deployed closed-circuit television cameras, biometric sensors at entrances, and overhead drones to track and surveil every individual entering the reserve, especially if they did so illegally.

The project has reduced poaching in the reserve by 96 percent, and the founders are working on rolling out the same principles to reserves across the country. By turning the internet into a security network for animal species, national parks and reserves can be empowered to keep criminals away from rare animals.

Do You Hear That?

For conservationists, birdsong is more than atmospheric. Its volume, timing, and location communicates valuable information about migration and changes in the ecosystem. Some projects pair high-quality recording devices and analytics that can identify different wildlife calls with findings uploaded to bioacoustic databases. Bernie Krause, a former musician, has turned keen observation of birdsong into an art that has, among other things, saved nesting populations of rare birds from being felled by deforestation.

Those databases allow for the extrapolation of larger avian patterns, which conservationists can compare with other changes in birds’ environments: Did a new building go up recently? Is a new freeway disturbing certain animal populations? Will an observed decline in the insect population affect other wildlife?

Saving the Trees—With Smartphones

Information about our forests and jungles is readily available thanks to robust satellite mapping, the same technology we use to navigate and plan trips. Unfortunately, a lot of that information reflects deforestation and the gradual disappearance of the tree-based natural habitats on which so much wildlife relies.

Mobile technology is helping equip and empower citizens of communities in affected areas to monitor deforestation—and replan activities to minimize human impact on their forests. In Tanzania, for example, local communities are equipped with smartphones and GPS devices to record places where they see the beginnings of deforestation or the decline of wildlife. When communities notice illegal logging or poaching, they can engage rangers and law enforcement to protect the affected areas.

What’s in a Footprint?

Tracking and monitoring endangered animal species empowers us to preserve wildlife. There are, however, debates on how best to do so, particularly when the species is hard to capture or approach.

Luckily, endangered animals leave traces of their presence that are easy to observe: footprints. ConservationFIT uses software to analyze digital images of animal footprints and cross-reference new images with past data to identify the species, age, and gender of the animal that left the print. The software then applies that information to map out populations and predict their movement patterns. ConservationFIT is currently focusing on cheetahs, jaguars, and snow leopards with its partners in Brazil, Namibia, Mexico, and the U.S.

Awareness of those movement patterns is crucial to organizations establishing nature reserves, deflecting poachers, and encouraging wild populations to breed. And with smartphone technology and greater internet connectivity, everyday people who come across animal tracks can join the movement by taking pictures, uploading them to a database, and noting where they saw the tracks.

The Internet-Powered Shield

The primary threat to many endangered animal species is human poachers. In South Africa, for example, more than 1,000 rhinos were illegally poached in 2016. But local and international technology firms have partnered to experiment with a noninvasive way to protect local rhinos by layering technology-based safety solutions around a private reserve.

First, they installed connectivity and Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the reserve. Then they deployed closed-circuit television cameras, biometric sensors at entrances, and overhead drones to track and surveil every individual entering the reserve, especially if they did so illegally.

The project has reduced poaching in the reserve by 96 percent, and the founders are working on rolling out the same principles to reserves across the country. By turning the internet into a security network for animal species, national parks and reserves can be empowered to keep criminals away from rare animals.

Do You Hear That?

For conservationists, birdsong is more than atmospheric. Its volume, timing, and location communicates valuable information about migration and changes in the ecosystem. Some projects pair high-quality recording devices and analytics that can identify different wildlife calls with findings uploaded to bioacoustic databases. Bernie Krause, a former musician, has turned keen observation of birdsong into an art that has, among other things, saved nesting populations of rare birds from being felled by deforestation.

Those databases allow for the extrapolation of larger avian patterns, which conservationists can compare with other changes in birds’ environments: Did a new building go up recently? Is a new freeway disturbing certain animal populations? Will an observed decline in the insect population affect other wildlife?

Saving the Trees—With Smartphones

Information about our forests and jungles is readily available thanks to robust satellite mapping, the same technology we use to navigate and plan trips. Unfortunately, a lot of that information reflects deforestation and the gradual disappearance of the tree-based natural habitats on which so much wildlife relies.

Mobile technology is helping equip and empower citizens of communities in affected areas to monitor deforestation—and replan activities to minimize human impact on their forests. In Tanzania, for example, local communities are equipped with smartphones and GPS devices to record places where they see the beginnings of deforestation or the decline of wildlife. When communities notice illegal logging or poaching, they can engage rangers and law enforcement to protect the affected areas.