Cool Ways to Help
Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge
Kashmir-Robotics, a division of the Al-Kareem Foundation, is hosting the Wildlife Conservation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge to stop rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park in South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s rhinoceros. Since 2010, over 50% of the rhino population in Kruger has been killed by poachers harvesting the rhinos’ horns for the Asian black market. The park is patrolled by rangers, but since Kruger is about the size of New Jersey, it’s nearly impossible for them to catch poachers in the act.
“Most of the rhino poaching in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is done by incursions from neighboring Mozambique. Poachers enter the park and cross the unfenced South African border in the bush at night. They will then hunt for rhino and other animals using large caliber hunting rifles and night vision goggles. They are also armed with AK47 automatic assault rifles. They can illegally enter the park anywhere along the 220 mile border with Mozambique and operate for 1-3 days or longer at a time. This is rough African bush. There are almost no roads, only narrow game paths. No runways. No cellphone signal at ground level. They need to be detected and stopped before any animals are shot. “
The challenge is to design aircraft that can be launched in the bush, operate for hours over the rugged terrain, detect and locate poachers, communicate over existing commercial infrastructures, and be recovered in the bush — all for under $3000 in materials. Read more…
We’re talking plankton. Yep, plankton.
Bet most of you don’t know much about plankton, but you probably should, since they contribute substantially to the oxygen you breathe, among other essential planet-supporting activities. Now there’s a fun, mind-expanding way to learn about these exceptionally hard-working organisms—and help scientists collect data about the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.
In mid-September, Zooniverse launched a project to crowd-source identification of plankton from photographic images captured at various locations around the globe. By identifying the numbers, sizes, and types of plankton found in these areas, scientists can analyze where and when plankton occur at different depths in the ocean; this information is a key to understanding the health of the oceans’ ecosystems.
On Kickstarter: Beautiful Photographs of Habitat Restoration
In the early 1900s, thousands of acres of Kenyan forest were cleared for the production of monoculture crops of tea and the eucalyptus used to dry it. Now some of that habitat is being restored by the Ecological Restoration Alliance, a group of botanic gardens from the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, China, Australia, and Jordan. Their goal is to restore 100 damaged and degraded habitats across 6 continents in 20 years. The places they’re targeting include tropical forests, prairies, wild places within cities, wetlands, and coastal sites — ecosystems that are threatened and no longer able to sustain people’s livelihoods or to support biodiversity.
The Alliance’s approach includes restoring wild areas, protecting restored habitats, and creating socioeconomic benefits for local communities. And it’s an approach that works. In just 12 years, restoration of the upland forest in Kenya has transformed a eucalyptus plantation into a thriving forest with over 150 bird species, a wide range of mammals, and hundreds of rare and endangered tree species. Read more…
Three Practical Challenges: Help the Elephant Listening Project Save What They Can’t See
Most people are aware of Asian elephants and the African elephants of the savannahs. A third variant on the largest land mammal on earth walks the rainforests of Central Africa, mostly out of sight and out of mind. The forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is so poorly known that efforts at designing effective conservation strategies are greatly hampered, yet these are the only elephants left on earth that enjoy a mostly free and unconstrained existence. They make their home in closed-canopy forests where most of the standard tools for studying animals are ineffective. We desperately need to find ways to leverage the incredible advances in engineering and software that define human activities today to help this amazing animal survive.
In recent decades, human threats to forest elephants have escalated at rates that, if unchecked, will push them to extinction before our generation has passed. From an estimated 1 million animals when the Phoenicians first ventured down the west coast of the African continent, they are now reduced to 100,000; last year alone about 12,000 were slaughtered for their ivory.
But how does one study an animal that we only directly observe when it comes to a forest clearing a few times each year? Additional challenges are posed because we can’t catch these three-ton beasts, and it’s dangerous to be on the ground with them.
The Elephant Listening Project (ELP), at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been tackling these problems through sound, eavesdropping on the communication system of forest elephants to track some basic aspects of their biology. To save the elephants, we need a quantum advance in our understanding of their biology, which requires both tracking individuals and moving data efficiently out of the forest to analysis hubs or the cloud. In addition, we also need to find ways to excite and engage young people living in elephant countries, perhaps by getting them directly involved with the biodiversity of their forests. Read more…
The Zoological Society of London is one of 10 finalists for a Google Global Impact Award – the tech-savvy folks at the ZSL have developed prototypes of tiny cameras with sound recording devices that will enable game wardens in Kenya to detect gunshots as they are happening, so they have a far better chance of catching poachers in the act of killing endangered elephants and rhinos.
Wildlife crime is one of the largest illegal trades in the world. Rhino poaching increased by over 40% from 2011-2012, posing a real threat to communities and tourism operations that depend on wildlife. The ZSL estimates that with the devices they’ll be able to cut poaching by 50% over two years.
The first award of £500,000 is based on online voting by the general public, and then there are 3 more awards of £500,000 each that will be determined by a panel of judges (including Sir Richard Branson and Sir Tim Berners-Lee).
There are 9 other great projects in contention for the awards; the ZSL project is the only one that focuses on endangered species. You can vote for up to 4 different projects, so go check them out and cast your votes! The public voting ends June 3rd.
To cast your vote for the ZSL’s Digital Eyes and Ears for Wildlife Protection project, go to: https://globalimpactchallenge.withgoogle.com/#/zsl
As if African elephants didn’t have enough to worry about, habitat loss is yet another key issue affecting their survival. Although elephant populations have increased since the 1970s, the human population has grown even more quickly, cutting the elephants’ habitat up into farms and roads. The elephants’ key migratory routes have been cut off in many places. As result, they regularly break through fences, where they eat and destroy crops. When the farmers confront elephants on their property, things don’t generally end well for either party.
Lucy King, a researcher working with Save the Elephants, has spent many years investigating the problems involved in crop protection. Her goal is to find long-term solutions that reduce the frequency of human-elephant conflicts—and that can be financed and managed by local farmers.
As Ms. King looked into the elephants’ habits for any clues to keeping them out of fields planted with crops, she noticed that they tended to avoid acacia trees with active nests of African bees. Elephants, it so happens, are afraid of the bees, and will move away from an area and warn other elephants if they hear bees buzzing nearby.
And so the beehive fence was invented. Read more…
Given the popularity of certain prescriptive posts on ConservationBytes.com, I thought it prudent to compile a list of software that my lab and I have found particularly useful over the years. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it will give you a taste for what’s out there. I don’t list the plethora of conservation genetics software that is available (generally given my lack of experience with it), but if this is your chosen area, I’d suggest starting with Dick Frankham‘s excellent book, An Introduction to Conservation Genetics.