The image of elephants crossing the African Savanna against a sunset is known the world over. The sad truth is that these iconic creatures and the other diverse wildlife that populate the vast continent are in danger of being lost to history unless those who protect them from peril have the right tools to do so.
The rangers that patrol Africa’s national parks and wildlife reserves face enormous challenges. Chronically short of funds and staff, they also face threats from bad weather, insect-borne diseases, poachers, and black-marketeers. According to The Thin Green Line Foundation, 150 rangers across the world die each year protecting animals and birds from harm.
And yet since many of Africa’s wildlife guardians are forced to rely on outdated methods of gathering and sharing data, such as handwritten reports and hardcopy filing systems, they are often deployed too late to make a difference.
A Global Environment Facility-supported project managed by Conservation International is seeking to use technology to rebalance the odds in their favor. EarthRanger, a real-time data visualization and tracking software, is being deployed in selected protected areas in Botswana, the Republic of Congo, and Mozambique.
EarthRanger, developed by Vulcan Inc., will help rangers track and protect animals under their protection by leveraging equipment such as radio collars, cameras, GPS, and satellite imagery. The software then collects, integrates, and displays all historical and real-time data available: the positions of animals and the rangers guarding them, spatial information, and potential threats such as poachers and zones where humans and animals could come into conflict. This will allow resources to be deployed more quickly and effectively.
The illegal wildlife trade is a global, profitable, and growing enterprise that too often goes undetected and unprosecuted. This makes patrolling and enforcement more vital than ever. But poaching is not the sole threat to Africa’s animals. Growth in human populations near key habitats has led to an increase in conflict between people and animals, which poses a danger to both.
EarthRanger has been a valuable tool in addressing this challenge in Kenya, where migration routes near the Amboseli ecosystem were a frequent site of human-wildlife conflict, especially between elephants and smallholder farmers. Between 2013 and 2016, Amboseli elephants were responsible for the deaths of 40 people and 1,700 crop raids. In retaliation, more than two dozen elephants were killed by young warriors in the area.
With EarthRanger, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was able to ease tension in this area. After creating an intuitive map using the platform, KWS was able to successfully maintain corridors for the elephants to migrate through – reducing the potential for confrontation between farmers, communities, and elephant herds.
The new GEF-backed project will facilitate the expansion of EarthRanger access and the construction of any necessary infrastructure, including control centers equipped with reliable power sources and Internet connections and digital radio or other communications hookups between the control room and the field.
It aims to deploy the technology across protected areas in each of the three target countries: ecosystems that range from the coral reefs of Mozambique to the Congo’s vast rainforest to the Okavango Delta region of Botswana, a Ramsar site and a critical habitat for many species of birds and animals.
The list of possible sites for deployment includes 25.8 million hectares of critical habitats across the three countries. At a minimum, the project aims to use EarthRanger to improve the management of 2.1 million hectares of protected areas in total.
To ensure protected areas in other countries are exposed to this potentially game-changing technology, the project will also support knowledge-sharing activities. These will include visits by delegations from national parks and reserves and information exchange about instances where EarthRanger software helped rangers defend their wild charges from the multitude of threats they face every day.