In depth: World Wide Wildlife: how tech is being used to save our animals

Drones vs poachers

There are around 2 million named species of animals right now, and between 30% to 50% of them could face extinction this century alone. According to WWF, the planet has already lost half of its wildlife over the past 40 years; between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year.

Drones vs poachers

There are around 2 million named species of animals right now, and between 30% to 50% of them could face extinction this century alone. According to WWF, the planet has already lost half of its wildlife over the past 40 years; between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year.

Those numbers are scary, and many of the causes behind them are human-made. Decades of big industry has seen poisonous gasses emitted into the skies, resulting in global climate change, as humans continue to destroy more and more greenland to accommodate the world’s growing population.

There are many other causes too, such as poachers killing animals to sell body parts for cash. The list goes on.

As bleak as all that sounds, there are also many humans trying to correct course. In fact, corporations, technologists and animal experts are already using innovative technologies to save endangered species in many different, unthinkable ways. From IoT to wearables, tech is giving endangered animals a new lease of life.

Drones vs poachers

Cisco and Dimension Data are just two of many tech players involved in projects that use technological innovation to improve the prospects of endangered animals. One of their joint projects is a connected tech trial aimed at regenerating the ailing rhino population.

In 1980, there were only 10,000-15,000 living Black Rhinos. Despite concerns being raised at the time, they would continue to decline, with only 2,475 recorded in 1993.

If this doesn’t change, rhino deaths could overtake rhino births by 2018, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. The main reason for the decline is, sadly, poachers who hunt and kill rhinos for their prized horns, which can be sold on the black market for millions.

Cisco and Dimension Data joined forces in April to use internet-connected technology as a way to stop poachers in their tracks.

In an unnamed South African game home to a herd of rhinos, they have deployed a high-tech network connecting devices like reserve-patrolling drones, thermal cameras and motion sensors to monitor and track people as they enter and leave the park.

This is in a bid to stop individuals and groups from entering illegally, be it by cutting down fences or entering through gates.

Dubbed ‘Connected Conversation’, the project is still in the early days. The companies have created a so-called reserve area network (RAN) and installed Wi-Fi hotspots around key areas of the park, which allow all the different technologies to collect information and communicate with each other.

Specialists based on-site control the network and all its technology, and also utilise the cloud for data analytics and back-up. The idea is that poachers are detected and apprehended before they can cause harm to the rhinos.

Another great aspect of using this tech is that rhinos aren’t harmed in the process. It doesn’t, say, involve darting the animals to insert sensors into their horns or under their skin, unlike some other initiatives. Cisco and Dimension say the tech will be replicated in other reserves across the world in the foreseeable future, following the trial phase – which will run till the end of the year.

“Our Connected Conservation is the only end-to-end technology solution to proactively intervene stop people entering the reserve illegally – whether it’s cutting fences, being dropped onto the ground by helicopters, or simply driving in through the entrance gates,” says Bruce Watson, an executive at Dimension Data.

“And the beauty of solution is that we don’t touch the animals by darting them with tranquilizers to insert sensors into their horns, or inserting a chip under their skin, which can be extremely stressful and risky for the animal.”

Chris Dedicoat, executive vice president of worldwide sales for Cisco, says his company and Dimension have moved quickly to find and implement a technological solution capable of protecting the world’s rhino population.

He says: “South Africa is currently home to about 70% of the remaining rhinos in the world. The Cisco and Dimension Data teams moved rapidly to study and build a highly secure digital solution that provides valuable insights, transparency and visibility to those who are protecting the rhinos need to make effective and informed decisions against poaching.”

Saving the honey bees

Honey bees play a pivotal role, but they’re also at grave risk of extinction. In the US alone, bee colonies have seen a 90% decline since the 1960s. This crisis is alarming experts and the food industry, with 70 out of 100 main food crops suffering shortages, according to GreenPeace data.

There are many reasons why the number of bees is plummeting, including lack of wild forage, disease and parasites. However, many people believe that Varroa destructor mites are the main cause, which leads to beekeepers using strong, harmful pesticides. These can end up causing more damage than good.

Tech is doing its bit to reduce the harm to the bee population. Gemalto, working in collaboration with agricultural communications firm Eltopia and the University of Minnesota, has developed a smart circuit board that’s inserted into beehives to detect when mites enter and lay eggs.

This information is then relayed via the internet to an application that alters the hive’s temperature, helping to destroy the mite eggs. The result is a pesticide-free solution that won’t harm bees.

Easy-to-use and non-toxic, the device – dubbed ‘MiteNot’ – is simply a flexible screen printed on the circuit that looks just like a traditional beehive frame. It’s been made out of renewable resources like cornstarch and is covered in wax so it blends into normal honeycomb.

On the tech side of things, there are a number of sensors on board which monitor the temperature of 32 different elements of the hive – indicating mite breeding stages.

To Manfred Kube, head of M2M (Machine to Machine) at Gemalto, IoT is more than just smart homes and connected cars. It’s also capable of doing good for the environment and wildlife, and this is demonstrated through projects like MiteNot.

“While the possibilities of IoT are often viewed through a lens of business benefit and consumer convenience, IoT and M2M technologies can have hugely beneficial impacts on environments and wildlife, too,” he tells TechRadar.

“In recent years, reports of the declining honeybee population have become more frequent. In a bid to solve this problem, we worked together with the agricultural tech company, Eltopia, using innovative IoT and M2M technology, to help reverse this decline.

“The University of Minnesota began the MiteNot project to address the issue, and commissioned our customer, Eltolpia to solve the crisis. This project shows the benefits IoT and M2M can bring to an increasing range of industries when it is applied in the right ways.”

Apps by the riverside

Rivers are home to a wide array of different creatures. The problem is that they’ve become increasingly contaminated, making them harmful to wildlife.

In the US alone, 1.2 trillion gallons of contaminated water and waste enter rivers yearly. Fishbrain, an app for anglers, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service teamed up to solve this worrying problem.

Since last August, the app has been letting users log sightings of 50 freshwater and marine species – including fish, birds, mammals, insects and reptiles – which are recognised as endangered by the USFWS.

This data is allowing conservationists and academics to determine where the animals are found, the type of environments they need in order to survive, reasons for their decline, and ways the public can help protect native wildlife for future generations.

The USFWS, which is an official US Government agency, spent months carefully curating the list to ensure maximum protection. It examined occurrences of species living near major streams, rivers, lakes and creeks, which resulted in millions of results.

To narrow this down, it focused on species that anglers and the public would likely come into contact with.

All the animals, including the Shortnose Sturgeon, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle and the California Red-Legged Frog, are protected by US law.

Proving the success of the project, a staggering 1.4 million users have been logging sightings of threatened species for the last few months, with data getting sent to experts all over the US.

Johan Attby, CEO of Fishbrain, believes that tech has a responsibility to make the the world a better place.

“The fact that our app is being used by a governmental agency to help with conservation, research, biodiversity and everything in between, makes us incredibly proud indeed,” he tells us.

“Our 1.4 million US users have been logging sightings of endangered species for seven months now, with the data being sent out to field biologists all over the country. Once the teams in the various different states have process the information we send over, we are looking forward to individual case studies coming to light that show how Fishbrain data is contributing to conversations about about biodiversity and conservation.”

While tech is making our lives easier and creating massive profits for multi-billion dollar companies, it’s important to remember that some of it is doing good for the world. Not only is it identifying the causes for rapid extinction, but it’s also tackling the problems, giving hope for the future.

“Technology, as the defining industry of the 21st Century, has a responsibility to not only think about downloads and profit, but to also help make the world a better place,” says Attby. “I could not be happier in knowing that we are doing our part.”

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