New Tech Tool Could Help Nab Poachers Before They Strike

Despite all that’s being done to stop wildlife poachers in their tracks, poachers are rarely caught or punished and poaching remains a global crisis.

To give you an idea— according to African Wildlife Foundation, the Black Rhino population is down 97.6% since 1960, up to 35,000 African elephants were killed last year alone, and the list goes on.

A wide range of animals are illegally slaughtered for just one (or two) of their body parts that can fetch a high price on the black market. Elephants for their tusks. Rhinos for their horns. Even certain rare birds for their ‘ivory’ beaks.

Nabbing illegal animal killers–a.k.a. poachers–is not easy. It’s also dangerous, life-risking work for rangers on the front lines. Sean Willmore, president of the International Ranger Federation and founder of the Thin Green Line Foundation, estimates that about two rangers are killed each week, if not more.

Besides the obvious danger involved, a challenge for anti-poaching professionals is that poachers operate over vast stretches of land. It’s near impossible to keep watch over it all and protect at-risk animals in the process.

There is a glimmer of hope in all this–in the form of an emerging technology.

Anyone remember this Care2 piece about drones being used to help nab poachers? Well along similar lines–there’s a new computer-based mapping tool that could turn the tables on poachers.

Selvam Velmurugan is the manager of philanthropic technology, emerging technology, and machine learning with Vulcan, a company established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His team created software called Domain Awareness System (DAS), which aggregates huge amounts of data in real time. The end result: what’s happening on vast stretches of land can be monitored via virtual data on a screen.

That may not sound like much, but DAS is a potential game-changer for anti-poaching professionals.

The new software got a tryout at Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where the anti-poaching unit uses it to track animals, plus its own vehicles and team members. If anything undesirable happens, like say an animal wanders outside a protected area or uninvited bad guys enter the scene, the tool enables whatever team is monitoring the data to respond to incidents as they happen.

National Geographic explains how DAS works:

“The system brings together in a single interactive viewing map GPS readings of animal movements, radio and vehicle trackers to follow anti-poaching teams in real time, camera trap photos, surrounding human settlements where poachers are likely to originate, weather conditions, and more. In this way it gives managers an integrated view of pretty much everything they need to know, minute-by-minute, in what may be a sprawling protected area.”

If you think that’s cool–the team is starting to enter data into the system from past poaching incidents. Information including time of day, day of week, season, vegetation, and rainfall.

Why? Because when you crunch all that data together, the hope is to be able to better identify where and when poaching is more likely to take place. A computerized educated-guesser, if you will.

You know what that means don’t you? In theory–poachers on the prowl could be stopped before they have a chance to kill.

How cool would that be?!

Velmurugan believes, “This will save the reserve significant amounts of time and money by focusing anti-poaching patrols more closely on known poaching hot spots.”

Vulcan’s chairman Paul G. Allen said, “Accurate data has a critical role to play in conservation.” He adds, “Rangers deserve more than just dedication and good luck. They need to know real-time what is happening in their parks and where animals are.”

It’s too early to tell just how effective this tool will be at combatting poaching, but National Geographic predicts that DAS could “revolutionize the way large conservation areas are managed in Africa and around the world.”

That would be something, wouldn’t it?!

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy wasn’t the first place DAS was implemented. Last November it was deployed at Akagera National Park in Rwanda.

Next up, there are plans to implement it in four additional parks: Liwonde National Park in Malawi; North Luangwa National Park in Zambia; Wildlife Conservation Society-managed Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in Republic of Congo; and Singita Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania.

Vulcan program manager Ted Schmitt told National Geographic, “In total the system will oversee some 40,000 square miles of protected area.” By next year, the aim is to have tens of thousands more animals under the protection of DAS.

Vulcan is donating all the software and assisting with implementation to make that happen, but the rest of the operations-related work is up to the parks.

There have been glimmers of hope in the fight against poaching. I remember sharing a story about one would-be rhino poacher a few years ago who was nabbed before he had the chance to kill. He received a lengthy jail sentence. (Damn straight!)

But those glimmers of hope are few and far between. And with all the disheartening poaching incidents you read about, the barrage of disturbing images, and alarming statistics–it can feel like an uphill battle.

We need much more than a glimmer at this point. Perhaps the new Domain Awareness System is the welcomed thunderbolt the anti poaching units need to tip the odds in their favor.

I’m certainly rooting for it.

Photo Credit: Flickr/ENOUGH Project


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Telica R
Telica R2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 years ago

Talk about disheartening....South Africa just legalized rhino horn trade... how wrong is that?

natasha s
Past Member 2 years ago

Please just get this technology used everywhere+ASAP.

heather g
heather g2 years ago

I earnestly hope that DAS is offered to Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique - the poaching figures are disturbing and the staff need the latest security information.

Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

DIane L, you know nothing about how ''WE'' humans are ''SUPPOSED'' to act/behave! All these acts of barbarism, cruelty, and indifference, is against everything ''REAL'' Human beings stand. These monsters are a disgrace to humanity, and they are the ones who don't deserve to be called Human(e) after what they've done, and are still doing. We can still change our attitudes ''towards'' wildlife and animals in general. What a sad little creature you are for even posting just how ungrateful you really are despite this awesome new information on how we can save endangered species from evil scum before they strike! Your unhealthy hatred and lack of faith in humanity (especially those with compassion and love in their hearts to actually do something about this crisis) Is beyond heartbreaking. You really should come to the light side, DIane, because you've been living in the dark for WAAAAAY too long!

Jess B
Jess B2 years ago

Hopefully, anything that helps is needed

DIane L
DIane L2 years ago

This is a great idea but something much greater is needed. Humans need to change their attitudes about wildlife and animals in general. They are not here for our use, they are here for themselves just like us. They deserve the land and resources to live their lives in a natural way without humans hunting, killing and taking their land away from them for our overblown population. I know this will never happen because human nature dictates that we are the supreme beings and they are ours to use, control and remove as we see fit. What sad little creatures we are!

Ruth G
Ruth G2 years ago

great ,!roll it out worldwide!

Deborah W
Deborah W2 years ago

What a wonderful idea ... a system that brings together, in a single interactive viewing map, GPS readings of animal movements, radio and vehicle trackers to follow anti-poaching teams in real time, giving managers an integrated view of pretty much everything they need to know, minute-by-minute. Having said that, however, being a skeptic by nature, my other side says that while it may be too early to tell just how effective this tool will be long-term, around the world, believe it essential to assess and share gathered DAS from last November at Akagera National Park in Rwanda to present. (Six months should give off some sort of pathway forward -- or not -- before plans are implemented in four additional parks). Vulcan's gesture of donating is not (in my personal opinion) without purpose. If proven in this lab-testing atmosphere, imagine the price tag will be huge, and often unaffordable. Will be interesting to follow .