A look at the technological innovations that are changing the conservation game and taking down the illegal wildlife trade.
The planet's wildlife has been under threat from various kinds of human activities. Humans have used nature and animals for their advantage since the early days of human beings and have caused massive environmental damage as a result. Such damage includes habitat destruction, illegal wildlife trade, the spread of invasive species and diseases, and the human interference on the Earth's climate. Wild, natural habitats are changing. However, with advanced technology and the rise of the internet, humans are grabbing the opportunity to preserve and rebuild the environment in innovative ways.
Today’s age is known as the 'Anthropocene Age' or The Human Age. This era can be defined by massive environmental changes, including climate changes and biodiversity loss. Luckily, there is another age in which humans live presently, which is known as the Information Age, where the internet, social media, and other computing devices are making humans' lives easier and more connected.
However, the advanced technology also presents humans with an opportunity to change their impact because of the enormous potential for data analytics and technology that plays a significant role in monitoring and responding to global biodiversity loss and climatic changes. The internet's progress has provided humans with an unprecedented opportunity to monitor and analyse the natural world. Thanks to cost-effective and high-tech sensor production, scientists can now capture more comprehensive and complete data both frequently and securely.
Governments, international NGOs, and various global organizations are working together to address and tackle hazards. Analytics technology is here to aid them. However, there are many restrictions and strict laws where tracking and enforcement are not very successful and are limited to a certain degree. Technology is lending a helping hand with big data and automation solutions. The AI and data-driven cloud technologies are becoming used for those working towards conservation and policymaking to design effective programs and handle the entire illegal wildlife supply chain from bottom to top levels.
Various countries have designated special zones in national parks and wildlife reserves where strict laws are in place to prosecute offenders. However, lack of resources makes tracking illegal activities difficult. National parks often cover thousands of square kilometers, making effective monitoring of all areas difficult. Here, drone technology and surveillance tech can help human rangers dramatically increase the range and effectiveness of their surveillance activities without having to physically deploy people to remote locations.
Some African governments have initiated SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) to handle the issue of the wildlife trade of various animal species. SMART enables them to gather, analyze, and share data on wildlife, illegal poaching, and conservation, which leads to better targeting of resources. By authorizing rangers and providing seamless tracking technology, SMART monitors both animal movements and poachers' activities. With camera traps and other sensor technologies, the conservation authorities can gather and observe massive amounts of wildlife-related information. However, this still presents a challenge because, with such a vast amount of data collected in the form of images and videos, it requires time to process and deliver useful insights, plus massive investment is needed in physical infrastructure.
Artificial intelligence’s (AI) biggest strength lies in being able to process the vast amounts of information needed to identify and track the illegal wildlife trade. For example, a program called AI Guardian can recognize images of illegal wildlife products with 75% accuracy. In 2007, several Chinese internet giants, including Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, started an alliance to pool their technology to take action against the illegal wildlife trade online.
Cloud based tech helps expand the technology rapidly without the need to provision, operate, and maintain expensive physical infrastructure. Cloud technology also enables wide-scale accessibility, allowing organizations spread across vast geographical distances to share information quickly and easily. Therefore, it becomes easier to pool resources and capabilities to deliver more significant results in wildlife conservation efforts.
The technology has also provided ancillary benefits for local populations such as creating jobs and allowing them to develop new skills.
By combining multiple data points and providing the authorities with a single source of truth, data analytics helps wildlife management strategies become more efficient while also providing greater visibility into what’s going on on the ground.
For example, Google's Wildlife Insight Project, uses AI and cloud technology automatically to process images of wildlife and sensor data, and then to identify animals in images and removing blank images, it aids policymakers with accurate and quality insights.
Modern technology offers humanity the chance to change the conservation game. Using cameras and drones to monitor the natural environment, analytics to process the information and inform policy, and cloud technology to eliminate physical and geographical barriers, we are beginning to develop the tools needed to make a difference in modern conservation efforts
About the author: Monica Heft is the creator of AnimalCreativeFacts.com
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