As originally published in Skoll World Forum

With the recent surge in the illegal wildlife trade, stories about the fight for survival of endangered species are on the increase. With forest cover quickly disappearing, the oceans growing more polluted, and animal populations dwindling towards extinction, there are only pockets of good news – despite the efforts of conservation organizations and individuals to reverse the trend. Our struggle to co-exist peacefully with nature gets more difficult every day.

Forces driving the problems include a growing human population and increasing competition for land and food, resulting in habitat loss, poaching, depletion of natural resources, pollution, climate change, poor environmental and tourism practices, and disease. These are hard problems just to understand, let alone develop solutions for.

The wildlife conservation sector has some of the most difficult challenges to solve, with the fewest resources. In the absence of innovative and universally accepted approaches to derive financial value from wildlife, animals and those that believe in protecting them are bound to lose.

The commercial sector has long turned to technology to get insights into complex challenges and optimize resources. Increasingly governments and the social sector are doing the same. There are some great examples of how technology is being used for conservation but by and large, the wildlife conservation sector has been behind in embracing and scaling modern technology for its purposes. The gap between what technology can do and what it is doing for wildlife is widening.

The Internet of Things (“IoT”) offers new opportunities for conservationists. IoT refers to the network of physical objects embedded with electronics, sensors and connectivity to enable greater value and service by exchanging data with other connected devices, individuals, or organizations. IoT makes it possible to better understand human behavior. Take grocery stores that can predict when a couple will end their relationship by analyzing their purchasing patterns, or that can tell their customers the name of the farmer who grew their cabbage, creating a closer connection to the food they eat.

In the social sector, IoT is being applied to food, education, water, and healthcare. Let’s also think about how IoT can be directly applied to saving wildlife. When we know as much as about animals as we do about humans, what they do, where they go, and when they go there, we can use that information to make better decisions about how to co-exist with them.

IoT is only limited by our imagination. Let’s imagine how:

  • Farmers could manage their crops and livestock to minimize human-animal conflict while living sustainably off shared land.
  • Scientists and NGOs could glean invaluable insights that could help develop techniques and programs to save them.
  • Governments could better allocate anti-poaching resources.
  • Park managers could more effectively and efficiently manage the parks and eco-systems they are tasked with protecting.
  • Tourism operators could provide a more powerful and memorable experience for their clients.
  • People worldwide could become more emotionally connected with individual animals whose lives are brought virtually into their homes.

Technology presents a tremendous opportunity for conservation organizations and developers to come together and more aggressively fight the loss of wildlife.

To start:

  • Conservation organizations can hire chief technology officers who spend their time thinking solely about how to apply technology to conservation problems.
  • Conservation funding organizations can allocate a larger percentage of their grants towards forward-thinking technology solutions that support their grantees.
  • Technology organizations can allocate more resources to applying their solutions to conservation.

These steps position all organizations to collaborate with each other on a world of possibilities. Time is running out, yet tools exist that can make a difference. I can’t wait to see how we put them to use.

Some articles on using technology to save wildlife:

“Biotech startup creates rhino horns – without rhinos” (CNN)

“Can you use big data to track an elephant poacher” (Foreign Policy)

Feasibility Study on the use of drones to support anti-poaching activities (MIT)

“Tag a tiger: How facial recognition can help track endangered animals” (Fast Company)

“How zoology has been transformed by mobile technology” (The Guardian)

“Elephants in the midst: warning system prevents human-elephant conflics in India, saves lives” (Mongabay)

“Can technology developments save what’s left of India’s wildlife?” (Times of India)

Comment