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March 3, 2017

World Wildlife Day: 5 ways ICTs are helping to protect wildlife

By Theadora Mills, ITU News

As more species face the risk of becoming endangered, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are being used to protect animals in new and innovative ways, from tracking poachers, to monitoring populations, to raising public awareness – and more.

This year’s theme for World Wildlife Day,“Listen to the Young Voices,” is ever pertinent as nearly one quarter of the world’s population is aged between 10 and 24. As more efforts are made to encourage young people to act at both local and global levels to protect endangered wildlife, here are five ways ICTs can help protect wildlife:

1. Social media is making conservation ‘cool’

ITU News recently spoke with Youth 4 African Wildlife (Y4AW), an organization using social media to help raise awareness among youth and to create a global movement of conservation ambassadors.

“Social media is making conservation ‘cool’ or more appealing. It helps us reach a new audience, an audience that is almost always online and we would have never been able to reach via traditional means,” says Fortunate M. Phaka, a Project Leader at Y4AW. “The Internet is a very quick and cost effective way to reach people, share our work, screen wildlife short films, and organize mass actions aimed at protection of wildlife. Through the Internet we have helped organize a global march for elephants and rhinos, highlighted important causes dedicated to protecting wildlife, raised funds for wildlife protection, recruited volunteers for our conservation initiatives, and the list goes on. The Internet is vital to our conservation work.”

The non-governmental organization (NGO) also hosts conservation internships for youth and promotes responsible tourism as means of protecting wildlife. As a youth-driven NGO using the power of online media, they illustrate some of the newest ways ICTs can help save wildlife.

2. Wildlife conservation: There’s an app for that

It’s not just Internet and social media that are helping to protect wildlife, but mobile phone applications are empowering everyday people to join the conservation cause. Free apps such as WildScan help identify and report illegal wildlife trading in places such as Thailand and Vietnam. iPhone tracking of mountain Gorillas is helping Rwanda’s rangers count and measure populations. And Project Noah allows citizen scientists to share data on wildlife spotting around the world.

As smartphones decrease in price and cellular coverage now reaches near 95% of available users, average citizens are making use of the mini-computer in their pockets for a cause that counts.

3. Drone innovation for conservation

In Kenya, one nature conservancy has grown its population of endangered black rhinos by 100% in just 10 years by deploying innovative technologies for surveillance. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is East Africa’s largest black rhino sanctuary and home to the last three northern white rhinos in the world.

The conservancy deploys infrared imaging and drones to keep a near constant eye on their rhino populations and has led some to declare a comeback of the black rhino in Kenya. They have combined sophisticated surveillance with intensive community outreach to make a winning combination for the animals that call the conservancy home.

4. Artificial intelligence outwits poachers

As artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to radically reconfigure our world, one AI application is proving to be a predictor of future wildlife crimes.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding research and applications of AI to outwit poachers, illegal loggers, and other would-be wildlife lawbreakers. PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security) is an AI application used in predicting crimes against wildlife and fisheries. It uses game theory to create mathematical and computer models of conflict and cooperation to predict human behaviors and plan optimal approaches for containment. As the NSF website states, “the project shows other computer science researchers the potential impact of applying their research to the world’s problems.”

5. GPS and satellite tracking

Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking is also a key part of technologies used for wildlife conservation. Since the 1990s, GPS tracking has followed a diverse range of species from orca whales to spider monkeys.

As the technologies have become smaller, more affordable and software more sophisticated, GPS collars provide robust data on animal’s migration routes, home range sizes, daily movements, behavioural data and diet.

The data can then be used for evidence-based interventions, such as reducing human-elephant conflicts and establishing Hawksbill Sea Turtle Conservancies.

While these are just some of the ways ICTs can help protect species, it is certain that we will need to make use of the ambitions of youth and all available technologies if we are to safeguard species for future generations.

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