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Seeking Digital Volunteers to Search & Protect Namibia’s Wildlife (Using Aerial Imagery from UAVs)

Patrick Meier is using UAVs, popularly called “drones”, to map out archaeological sites and aid humanitarian and environmental efforts. He partners with institutions around the globe to bring us amazing, interactive community projects and, of course, stunning aerial photos.

New Update Here!

UAVs are increasingly used in humanitarian response. We have thus added a new Clicker to our MicroMappers collection. The purpose of the “Aerial Clicker” is to crowdsource the tagging of aerial imagery captured by UAVs in humanitarian settings. Trying out new technologies during major disasters can pose several challenges, however, so we’re teaming up with Drone Adventures, Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve, Polytechnic of Namibia, and l’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to try out our new Clicker using high-resolution aerial photographs of wild animals in Namibia.

Kuzikus1
As part of their wildlife protection efforts, rangers at Kuzikus want to know how many animals (and what kinds) are roaming about their wildlife reserve. So Kuzikus partnered with Drone Adventures and EPFL’s Cooperation and Development Center (CODEV) and the Laboratory of Geographic Information Systems (LASIG) to launch the SAVMAP project, which stands for “near real-time ultrahigh-resolution imaging from unmanned aerial vehicles for sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation in semi-arid savanna under regional and global change.” SAVMAP was co-funded by CODEV through LASIG. You can learn more about their UAV flights here.

Our partners are interested in experimenting with crowdsourcing to make sense of this aerial imagery and raise awareness about wildlife in Namibia. As colleagues at Kuzikus recently told us, rhino poaching continues to be a growing problem that threatens to extinguish some rhino species within a decade or two. Rhino monitoring is thus important for their protection. One problem is detecting rhinos in large areas and/or dense bush areas. Using digital maps in combination with MicroMappers to trace aerial images of rhinos could greatly improve rhino-monitoring efforts.

So our pilot project serves two goals: 1) Trying out the new Aerial Clicker for future humanitarian deployments; 2) Assessing whether crowdsourcing can be used to correctly identify wild animals.

MM Aerial Clicker

Can you spot the zebras in the aerial imagery above? If so, you’re already a digital ranger! No worries, you won’t need to know that those are actually zebras, you’ll simply outline any animals you find (using your mouse) and click on “Add my drawings.” Yes, it’s that easy!

We’ll be running our Wildlife Challenge from September 26th–28th. To sign up for this digital expedition to Namibia, simply join the MicroMappers list-serve here. We’ll be sure to share the results of the Challenge with all volunteers who participate and with our partners in Namibia. We’ll also be creating a wildlife map based on the results so our friends know where the animals have been spotted (by you!).

MM_Rhino

Given that rhino poaching continues to be a growing problem in Namibia (and elsewhere), we will obviously not include the location of rhinos in our wildlife map. You’ll still be able to look for and trace rhinos (like those above) as well as other animals like ostriches, oryxes & giraffes, for example. Hint: shadows often reveal the presence of wild animals!

MM_Giraffe

Drone Adventures hopes to carry out a second mission in Namibia early next year. So, if we’re successful in finding all the animals this time around, then we’ll have the opportunity to support the Kuzikus Reserve again in their future protection efforts. Either way, we’ll be better prepared for the next humanitarian disaster thanks to this pilot program. MicroMappers is developed by QCRI and is a joint project with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Any questions or suggestions? Feel free to email me at patrick@iRevolution.net or add them in the comments section below. Thank you!

Patrick Meier is a 2012 National Geographic Emerging ExplorerHe is the author of the forthcoming book “Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response” (2015). Patrick also authors the widely respected iRevolution blog and tweets at @patrickmeier.

Comments

  1. Janeen Russell
    Gauteng
    September 22, 2014, 3:37 am

    Morning what would be required to become a volunteer. Just a thought, would placing hidden cameras into the horn much like a chip, help. Perhaps some kind of sensor which could warn animals of pending danger, but wouldn’t know where or how to go about this. Ofcourse would love one which could blow up the helicopter/s together with passengers (poachers)

  2. Friedrich Reinhard
    Namibia
    September 17, 2014, 2:36 pm

    Hello. I am co-manager of Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve, and initiator of the SAVMAP drone project on Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve, Namibia

    here my counter-arguments concerning an argument that says that drones and animal tracking will help poachers:
    – We don’t release critical information
    – poachers won’t stop using technology just because we are ignoring technology. We should be knowing what drone technology can bring, and what risks and what opportunities it will bring and not let poachers find out alone. Every technology has two sides to it. If we ignore drone technology, it does not mean that poachers will.
    – we dare to assess new technology for its potential to do better land-use management in semi-desert environment. Better land-use management is a prerequisite to sustain livelihoods of a growing population of people, whilst conserving biodiversity. If land wants to be managed in a sustainable way, especially at average rain fall of 230 mm/year one needs to know how many animals are grazing on that particular strip of land. In the past we do helicopter game counts as well as transect counts by foot and car. However, drones might also be an option in the future.
    – Concerning rhinos: If we don’t know how many rhinos are left and where they are how do we know that they are not poached ? Rhino monitoring is absolutely essential for conserving them. The trick is not letting poachers know where rhinos are. Yes, in a digital, interconnected world, keeping information safe can be tricky. Anyhow, aerial surveying (eg. drones) might help the ranger in monitoring rhinos or deter paochers. However, drones can only be one component of an anti-poaching strategy. Having feet on the ground is absolutely essential. On Kuzikus we and I are patrolling every day, on foot, on horse back, by car, hiding at water points and at random places. Some of Namibia’s best trackers are in the bush all day looking after rhinos, and they are rewarded for critical information. We are well connected. We have special camera equipment for long range photgraphy. We employ hidden camera traps. We have laser sensors installed. We experiment with wireless camera systems and noise sensors, AND, yes, we are also experimenting with drones. We try our best.

  3. Friedrich Reinhard
    Namibia
    September 17, 2014, 2:32 pm

    Hello. I am co-manager of Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve, and initiator of the SAVMAP drone project on Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve.
    Here my counter-arguments concerning an argument that says that our drones and animal tracking will help poachers:
    – We don’t release critical information
    – Poachers won’t stop using technology just because we are ignoring technology. We should be knowing what drone technology can bring, and what risks and what opportunities it will bring and not let poachers find out alone. Every technology has two sides to it. If we ignore drone technology, it does not mean that poachers will.
    – we dare to assess new technology for its potential to do better land-use management in semi-desert environment. Better land-use management is a prerequisite to sustain livelihoods of a growing population of people, whilst conserving biodiversity. If land wants to be managed in a sustainable way, especially at average rain fall of 230 mm/year one needs to know how many animals are grazing on that particular strip of land. In the past we do helicopter game counts as well as transect counts by foot and car. However, drones might also be an option in the future.
    – Concerning rhinos: If we don’t know how many rhinos are left and where they are how do we know that they are not poached ? Rhino monitoring is absolutely essential for conserving them. The trick is not letting poachers know where rhinos are. Yes, in a digital, interconnected world, keeping information safe can be tricky. Anyhow, aerial surveying (eg. drones) might help the ranger in monitoring rhinos or deter paochers. However, drones can only be one component of an anti-poaching strategy. Having feet on the ground is absolutely essential. On Kuzikus we and I are patrolling every day, on foot, on horse back, by car, hiding at water points and at random places. Some of Namibia’s best trackers are in the bush all day looking after rhinos, and they are rewarded for critical information. We are well connected. We have special camera equipment for long range photgraphy. We employ hidden camera traps. We have laser sensors installed. We experiment with wireless camera systems and noise sensors, AND, yes, we are also experimenting with drones. We try our best.

  4. Patrick Meier
    September 17, 2014, 12:35 pm

    Many thanks for reading and for your comments, Mikkie and Chester.

    @Mikkie, the rangers Kuzikus Reserve in Namibia are the experts on their reserve. They will be the ones deciding what data is safe to make public and what data should remain confidential. I don’t recall them saying their were elephants/lions in their reserve. Regardless, they are the experts in wildlife protection and will decide what to make public versus not public.

    @Chester, I completely agree with your re holistic approach.

  5. Mikkie Kriel
    Namibia
    September 17, 2014, 9:33 am

    (Given that rhino poaching continues to be a growing problem in Namibia (and elsewhere), we will obviously not include the location of rhinos in our wildlife map)
    So you do realise that tracking our wildlife helps the poachers – what about our elephants, lions etc. I personally do not believe in tracking our wildlife for this obvious reason

    • Patrick Meier
      September 17, 2014, 1:09 pm

      Many thanks for reading and for your comments, Mikkie

      The rangers Kuzikus Reserve in Namibia are the experts on their reserve. They will be the ones deciding what data is safe to make public and what data should remain confidential. I don’t recall them saying their were elephants/lions in their reserve. Regardless, they are the experts in wildlife protection and will decide what to make public versus not public.

  6. Chester
    Zambia
    September 16, 2014, 2:50 am

    Patrick,

    Awesome stuff.

    However, let adopt a holistic appraoch.

    Most poachers come from poorer countries like Mozambique and move to kill animals in more affluent states like Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

    Lets roll out the technology in poorer neighbouring states like Mozambique.

    Also we need to motivate game ranger with incentives like a risk allowance and better pay.

    Also lets address poverty that drives young men to poaching seen as a get rich quick option.

    One trick here in Zambia is allowing local communities to co-own private game reserves as opposed to a well-heeled few. The communities get motivated to protect animals and the income alleviates poverty.

    We also need to diminsh demand in the Far East. Poaching has been worsened with hundreds of Chinese expats now working in Africa. Most are law-abidding but a criminal few are financing poaching.

    Thanks.

    http://bit.ly/1m1X6cp

    • Patrick Meier
      September 17, 2014, 1:10 pm

      Many thanks for reading and for your comment, Chester. I completely agree with your re holistic approach. If you know where Kuzikus Wildlife Reserve can get funding to expand their efforts, then please let know and I’ll share this with them.