Camera Traps and Google Earth: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Conservation

Through time-tested approaches and ICT innovations, USAID helps partner countries develop and use the resources needed to sustainably manage their natural resources.

Where in the world do tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and orangutan live together? Only one place: Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park, where four critically endangered Sumatran species struggle to evade extinction. To better protect them from habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict, the government of Indonesia and the Ministry of Forestry partner with USAID’s LESTARI activity to research the populations. Using camera trap technology, forest rangers can monitor wildlife movements, numbers and habitat ranges. The camera trap photographs do not just capture tigers on film—they provide baseline population data help the government and park management to make more informed and effective decisions about protection efforts.

Sumatran tiger, credit WCS Indonesia
Camera trap photo of a Sumatran Tiger. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are a vital but sometimes underestimated tool for conservation and natural resource management. As with Indonesia’s camera traps, ICTs can make daunting and difficult tasks—like counting tigers—not only attainable but also more accurate. USAID strategically invests in these technologies to aid the monitoring and management of resources, including forestry and wildlife. Data gathered through ICTs then allows the Agency and our partner countries to make evidence-based decisions for better outcomes.

By combining time-tested approaches and ICT innovations, USAID’s biodiversity conservation programming helps countries to develop and use the resources and knowledge needed to sustainably manage their natural resources. As we recognize World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on May 17, we want to highlight the efforts of these programs, tools and initiatives:

Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge
The illegal wildlife trade has far-reaching ecological, security and economic consequences that undermine conservation and sustain criminal networks. As part of USAID’s multifaceted approaches to combat illegal trafficking, the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge awarded more than $900,000 to four Grand Prize winners who presented exceptional innovations. These solutions include a web-based interface to identify online trafficking and real-time forensic analysis on shipping invoices to more swiftly spot illegal trade.

Madagascar forestry patrol, credit Natalie Bailey USAID
Pierre Sampilahy, Chief Patroller for Madagascar’s Mitsinjo community forestry group. Photo: Natalie Bailey, USAID

Community Forest Monitoring in Madagascar
Despite having lost more than 80 percent of its original forests, Madagascar is home to more than five percent of the world’s plant and animal species. USAID has played a key role in Madagascar by fostering government action for biodiversity and expanding protected areas. Through law enforcement training, USAID has enabled communities to more accurately and swiftly monitor forest resources and enforce regulations. Local patrol teams can collect data on community use of trees, illegal logging and changes to the forests. When patrols discover a violation, they record the data, including a GPS point, and send a report to government authorities—improving collaboration, communication and responses.

Seafood Traceability
Seafood traceability—tracking the movement of seafood through supply chains—can help consumers make good choices, while also combating illegal fishing, improving management decisions and cultivating more prosperous seas. To advance these goals, the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership is harnessing electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability (eCDT) technology to conserve Southeast Asia’s seas. This partnership encourages the collection and analysis of ecological, social and economic data throughout the seafood product supply chain, enabling traceability from catch to retail sale. Similarly, the SNAPPER project works with Indonesia's Ministry of Marine and Fisheries, the private sector and fishers toward more sustainable and productive deep-water fisheries; the project supports better stock assessments by increasing the generation of and access to reliable catch data through eCDT technology. On a global level, the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT) convenes seafood stakeholders from around the world to collaborate on innovative solutions for legal and sustainable seafood. SALT supports learning and collaboration on comprehensive eCDT systems that address economic prosperity, ecological security and human well-being goals.

Google Earth and Open Data Kit in Brazil
USAID’s innovative partnership with Google Earth and Open Data Kit is empowering indigenous peoples to map and manage their lands. The project enables communities to map features of their territories and to collect data to inform management decisions; as part of the Open Data Kit, community members can create their own “life plans” to inform territory management. The project works with indigenous communities in Brazil’s Para state and quilombola communities from six Amazon states.

Spatial Monitoring and Reporting
In 2013, a group of conservation organizations created a simple but game-changing solution to curb poaching and the illegal wildlife trade: the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART). With the free tool, protected area managers, rangers and community members can digitally record patrolled areas, poaching encounters and other data on the SMART app. Stakeholders can then easily access the data to make effective and efficient decisions. USAID helped advance the tool in its early years and continues to make SMART a critical component of building law enforcement capacity in priority places, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Wildlife Warriors in Amboseli National Park Kenya, credit Wildlife Warriors
Behind the scenes of Wildlife Warriors in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. Photo: Wildlife Warriors

Wildlife Warriors in Kenya
ICTs do not have to be the most cutting-edge; established technology, like television, can easily spread the word about the value of biodiversity conservation, creating awareness, behavior change and environmental champions.In Kenya, USAID has partnered with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Wild Lives Foundation and National Geographic to support Wildlife Warriors, a television series that recently premiered on East Africa’s largest television channel, Citizen TV. Host Paula Kahumbu takes viewers into the lives of Kenyan conservation heroes and introduces the country’s wild places and wildlife, from elephants in Amboseli National Park to African wild dogs in Laikipia.