Responding to the elephant poaching crisis illustrated in 2016’s Great Elephant Census (GEC), philanthropist Paul G. Allen and his team of technologists and conservation experts are partnering with park managers across Africa to provide a new technology platform to better protect this iconic species and other wildlife threatened by human activities.
The GEC documented an alarming 30 percent loss of savannah elephants over the past seven years primarily due to increased ivory poaching. This confirmed conservationists’ greatest fears and gives new importance to technology to aid in addressing this crisis.
The Domain Awareness System (DAS) is a tool that aggregates the positions of radios, vehicles, aircraft and animal sensors to provide users with a real-time dashboard that depicts the wildlife being protected, the people and resources protecting them, and the potential illegal activity threatening them.
“Accurate data plays a critical role in conservation,” said Paul Allen. “Rangers deserve more than just dedication and good luck. They need to know in real-time what is happening in their parks.”
The visualization and analysis capabilities of DAS allow park managers to make immediate tactical decisions to then efficiently deploy resources for interdiction and active management. “DAS has enabled us to establish a fully integrated approach to our security and anti-poaching work within northern Kenya,” said Mike Watson, chief executive officer of Lewa Conservancy where the first DAS installation was deployed late last year. “This is making us significantly more effective and coordinated and is showing us limitless opportunities for conservation applications.”
The system has been installed at six protected wildlife conservation sites since November 2016. Working with Save the Elephants, African Parks Network, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Singita Grumeti Fund as well as the Lewa Conservancy and Northern Rangelands Trust, a total of 15 locations are expected to adopt the system this year.
“When we are fully operational by the end of 2017, the system will cover more than 90,000 square miles of protected area,” said Ted Schmitt, lead program manager for DAS. “In speaking with park managers over the last few years, a large gap was a lack of a single technology platform that could make great use of the data to direct enforcement efforts and enable deep analysis.”
The SMART Partnership, a consortium of conservation NGOs, government partners, and technology companies, is working with Paul Allen’s team to integrate DAS with SMART software used in nearly 500 sites across 46 countries to measure, evaluate and adaptively improve the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols and site-based conservation activities.
DAS is also powering the Save the Elephants Tracking App, a mobile tool for rangers and researchers that is already proving effective in many field sites across Africa.
“If you know where elephants are, and how they are moving, then you can help protect them,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, president of Save the Elephants. “We’ve been tracking elephants for a long time to get ahead of poachers in this way and the DAS is taking this into a new realm. I’m absolutely thrilled that Paul Allen is doing this. DAS is a game changer.”
With early and eager adoption by the protected areas to date, the implementation team is focusing on the integration of new data sources as they become available. Satellites, drones, camera traps, animal sensors, weather monitors and technology yet to be invented can all be used for managing and protecting wildlife no matter what threats develop in the future.