By Jaymi Heimbuch
Rhinos, for their horns. Sharks, for their fins. Elephants, for their tusks. Tigers, for their organs and skins.
The list of endangered species poached for pieces of their bodies to be sold illegally on the black market is long. Unfortunately, as these species decline and poaching them becomes more difficult, the problem hasn't slowed — instead it has become more methodical, more organized and more high-tech. Park rangers and governments are struggling to battle almost mafia-like gangs that use helicopters, night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles to take down their targets. But technological advances have not been limited to tools used for poaching — they offer amazing solutions to catch poachers as well. Here are seven tools that are making a difference.
As the cost of drones (read: fancy remote-control airplanes with cameras and/or sensors onboard) drops and they become easier to use, these high-tech tools have been filling an important role for conservationists and park rangers who want to stop poachers. Already, drones have been used to protect endangered species from Kenya to Nepal to whales in the ocean. Recently, Google awarded the World Wildlife Fund $5 million through the Global Impact Awards, money that is to be spent on technology that can further conservation efforts including aerial surveillance drones. Having eyes in the sky, especially on a tiny and quiet vehicle, is a major boon for teams protecting endangered species.
Google Earth and GPS collars Google Earth has provided a wealth of information and discovery for scientists and conservationists scanning the globe from their computer screens. But it can also be a real-time tool to end poaching. Save the Elephants uses Google Earth along with GPS tracking collars on elephants to monitor the movements of herds, noting not only their location but how quickly they are moving. They can use the almost real-time data to trace if an individual or herd seems to be running from pursuers, as well as if an animal has stopped moving and may have fallen victim to poaching. The team receives alerts on mobile devices when an elephant's movements are unusual, telling them when to pay attention and where to go to investigate.
The nonprofit is not only using Google Earth to track movements and provide help to the animals in the field, but also to provide high-quality data to the public. The Elephants in Peril website uses the Google Maps Engine and Fusion Tables to show the story of elephant populations over time and across the continent, revealing trends and driving mainstream interest for protecting the species. More....