Technology to the Rescue

Technology to the Rescue

Kathleen Garrigan

KWS plane. Photo by Peter Chira

Technological innovation is often born out of two things: necessity and war. Conservation groups like AWF need to know more about rare species like the bonobo to determine how best to protect them. At the same time, there is a war on to defend well-known species—rhinos and elephants, for example—that have come under attack.

As the urgency to protect Africa’s wildlife intensifies, the conservation community is exploring new technologies that get the job done, in peacetime and in times of conflict.

High-tech guards. In AWF’s Congo landscape, AWF-trained ecoguards collect important data about wildlife, such as bonobo nest sites and traces of forest elephant, as well as document conservation threats like the location of a poacher camps and animal snares. Handheld hardware’s ability to instantly capture and communicate data from the field increases the accuracy of information, which is then used by wildlife authorities and AWF to implement conservation actions.

Eyes in the sky. Outside of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a vast area hard hit by rhino poaching, University of Maryland researchers are testing the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will give ground-based rangers a bird’s-eye view of the park. The ability to patrol by air will allow rangers to track wildlife, as well as potential threats, such as people moving on foot or by vehicle through the park, giving rangers the advantage—and a chance to intervene before the worst happens.

Fingerprinting elephants. Forensic researchers, such as those at the University of Washington, are now using samples from elephant scat to DNA-fingerprint elephant populations in Africa. When DNA samples from seized ivory are compared with the DNA data already on file, scientists, conservationists, and governments will know in which country the elephant lived—and died, helping wildlife authorities focus their resources around known elephant hunting grounds.

With some technologies like UAVs still in the early stages of development, the costs can be prohibitive for the limited budgets of conservation groups and wildlife authorities. As new technologies come onto the market, however, prices are falling—perfect timing, given how conservation stakes are rising. 

About the Author

Kathleen Garrigan is a former Media Relations Manager at African Wildlife Foundation. Many moons ago, she worked at a wildlife sanctuary near the Kruger National Park in South Africa where she slept with monkeys, fought bush fires, led snare patrols, and guided camping trips. She has traveled throughout Southern and East Africa.