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Using Technology to Combat Wildlife Crime

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

Text and Photos by iLCP Fellow James Morgan

Back in 2012, I worked with World Wildlife Fund to cover a story on the link between wildlife crime and terrorism. I spent time with rangers in both West and East Africa and then followed the trade networks into China and Thailand. At the time, the loss of both wildlife and human life was spiraling out of control. Four years later, the situation has escalated. In March of this year I went back to East Africa, this time to the Maasai Mara, to see first-hand how the battle against poachers and wildlife crime had evolved.

In Gabon, eco guard Soho Jocelyn prepares to leave his family and go on patrol in Menkebe national park. Being a ranger in Central Africa has become increasingly dangerous in recent years as poachers now frequently use automatic weapons, often killing rangers in clashes deep in the jungle.
2012-  In Gabon, eco guard Soho Jocelyn prepares to leave his family and go on patrol in Menkebe national park. Being a ranger in Central Africa has become increasingly dangerous in recent years as poachers now frequently use automatic weapons, often killing rangers in clashes deep in the jungle.
Central Africa is in the midst of an elephant poaching crisis. In order to combat the problem, the president of Gabon has recruited a whole new section of the army devoted to fighting back against wildlife crime. Here, Mba Ndong Marius holds seized Ivory tusks in front of a pile of confiscated weapons. Menkebe, Gabon.
2012-  Central Africa is in the midst of an elephant poaching crisis. In order to combat the problem, the president of Gabon has recruited a whole new section of the army devoted to fighting back against wildlife crime. Here, Mba Ndong Marius holds seized Ivory tusks in front of a pile of confiscated weapons. Menkebe, Gabon.
Eco guards cook dinner on patrol in a logging concession outside Minkebe national park.
2012-  Eco guards cook dinner on patrol in a logging concession outside Minkebe national park.

In an attempt to level the playing field, WWF is working with thermal imaging camera manufacturer FLIR to develop a new anti-poaching system – one that combines thermal imaging cameras and human detection software. This is one of the first times this technology has been used outside of the military and law enforcement, to protect wildlife.

Field technicians at Mara Conservancy installing mobile FLIR camera unit. As part of WWF's wildlife crime technology project.
Field technicians at Mara Conservancy installing mobile FLIR camera unit. As part of WWF’s wildlife crime technology project.
Installing solar panels for FLIR camera system in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya. As part of WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Installing solar panels for FLIR camera system in an undisclosed national park in Kenya. As part of WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Cheruiyot Maritim a Mara Conservancy ranger installing FLIR camera system at Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve. As part of WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Cheruiyot Maritim a Mara Conservancy ranger installing FLIR camera system at Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve. As part of WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Ranger anti-poaching unit testing the newly installed mobile FLIR camera system at the Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve Kenya. As part of WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Ranger anti-poaching unit testing the newly installed mobile FLIR camera system at the Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve Kenya. As part of WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project.

Whilst in the Mara we worked with Mara Conservancy rangers and Kenya Wildlife Service to install  FLIR technology at two sites: on a mobile patrol unit in the Mara, where we took it out on a test night patrol. And at an undisclosed wildlife park in Kenya, where stationary FLIR units were installed.

 

“Wildlife rangers now have the help they’ve desperately needed.” says Colby Loucks, WWF’s wildlife crime technology lead. “This groundbreaking technology allows them to search for poachers 24 hours a day, from up to a mile away, in pitch darkness. It’s upping the game in our fight to stop wildlife crime across the region.”

KWS ranger patrol unit at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya. As part of WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology project.
KWS ranger patrol unit at an undisclosed national park in Kenya. As part of WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Dr. Asuka Takita, Veterinarian/Canine Unit Supervisor and ranger colleagues at the Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve. As part of WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Dr. Asuka Takita, Veterinarian/Canine Unit Supervisor and ranger colleagues at the Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve. As part of WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Ranger anti-poaching unit at the Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve Kenya. As part of WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology project.
Ranger anti-poaching unit at the Mara Conservancy at Maasai Mara National Reserve Kenya. As part of WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project.

Since the technology was installed, more than two dozen poachers  have been arrested. The ability to see (and crucially drive) in the dark without using headlights could prove a crucial milestone in the fight against wildlife crime. The hope is that the more effective the technology becomes the stronger a deterrent it will be. The aim isn’t just to make arrests but to dissuade potential poachers from entering national parks.

 

WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project is enabled by a grant from google.org. Further work is happening throughout the continent, with anti-poaching drone test flights beginning in Zimbabwe and Malawiin October.

See more of James Morgan’s work on Wildlife crime on his website.

Support the work of the International League of Conservation Photographers by donating at this link.

Comments

  1. David
    Canada
    November 22, 2016, 10:10 am

    It would be more advantageous to use a drone with weapons,
    Then you don’t have to send out men looking for poachers, You just eliminate them on site and left wildlife feast on their bones.