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How Open-Source Software Could Help Save Endangered Animals From Poachers

by Portal Web Editor last modified May 02, 2013 10:51 PM
Contributors: Bittel, Jason
© 2013 The Slate Group, LLC
No one is going to tell you we’ve been winning the battle against the illegal wildlife trade. In most cases, we’re outmanned, outgunned, and probably most of all, out-spent. That’s why an alliance of six conservation organizations have come together to build an anti-poaching tool designed to bridge the technological gap between poachers and wildlife rangers.

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“Poaching is becoming a lot more organized and technologically advanced,” Barney Long, Asian species expert for the World Wildlife Fund, told me. “We have examples of rhino poachers in Africa using night vision and helicopters, while our rangers on the ground are lucky if they have GPS and a weapon.”

He’s only half-joking. Wildlife managers are often local organizations with shoestring budgets, but the trade they battle is global. To combat this disparity, conservation corps in the field can get a much-needed tech upgrade with the open-source Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, nicknamed SMART. Released in February, SMART is a way for wildlife managers to better track illegal activity in their parks. As rangers patrol the field, GPS units keep constant tabs on their movements; coordinates can also be tethered to special events, like discovering a snare or arresting a poacher. Back at HQ, this information is loaded into SMART for overlay on maps. When combined with information from other sources, like tips from locals or historical experience, managers using SMART are able to visualize and plan for threats more efficiently. Long calls this “adaptive management.”

Such technology may sound obvious or rudimentary, as many of us work in offices with three supervisors and a never-ending flow of TPS reports. But wildlife conservation is a business run out of the bush.

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