The Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) is the largest direct threat to the future of many of the world’s threatened species, as well as the livelihoods of local people who rely on wildlife-based economies. Urgent action is needed to address this crisis and reverse the appalling trends; where a rhino is killed by poachers every seven hours; African elephant populations are declining by 8% a year and over a thousand park rangers are killed in the line of duty over the last decade. Beyond the spotlight, there are many other gravely endangered species, such as the pangolin, the saiga, and the African grey parrot; alongside globally important trees and many fish species.
Technology has the capacity to deliver sustainable solutions to combat this trade, alongside tackling other threats to conservation, and at a scale that will have a real impact on the ground.
The WILDLABS Tech Hub has helped further the development of four innovative technology solutions tackling the IWT, through a three-month support program. The program sought to help participating solutions achieve sustainability by offering long term access to cloud infrastructure, opportunities for further investment, and the establishment of new partnerships to help scale implementation. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provided the initial seed funding to kick-start the WILDLABS TECH HUB, and in-kind support has been donated by Digital Catapult, Satellite Applications Catapult and WILDLABS conservation partners, with technical support, training, and cloud credits offered by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s AI for Earth program.
The solutions selected to participate in the WILDLABS Tech Hub are:
A monitoring and communication system for protected areas
Wildlife Protection Solutions has provided alerts on over 200 potential poaching incidents since becoming operational, helping to prevent wildlife crime in important conservation areas. An Internet-of-Things (IoT) system uses machine learning modules to detect people and animals in real-time images and videos captured by remote cameras.
Fingerprint storage and search technology
With the support of Interpol, the City of London Police Fingerprint Bureau are providing access to their fingerprint database and Artificial Intelligence (AI) search technology to countries working on the front lines of wildlife crime. By running crime scene training in Zimbabwe and Zambia, the Bureau is helping local law enforcement set up their own database and search tools to collect, process, and search for fingerprints from people involved in IWT.
Acoustic sensing devices to detect signs of hunting
Open Acoustics have developed a low cost, open-source acoustic monitoring device called AudioMoth capable of running smart detection to monitor the sound of gunshots, chainsaws or trucks in important conservation areas. The data helps managers understand where illegal activity is taking place so they can respond to threats and plot patrol routes to safeguard wildlife. Version 2.0 will expand new features for wireless networking, enabling AI modules on the device to detect sound triggers and provide real-time alerts.
Cube satellites for low-cost monitoring to unconnected areas
WWF, Stanford University, the University of Colorado Boulder and Imperative Space are aiming to launch a constellation of CubeSats called PandaSat to enable a network of tiny tracking devices to monitor the movement of animals or assets anywhere in the world. PandaSat will provide geo-location for important species, rangers, vehicles, to enable on-the-ground verification, targeting and scaling of conservation efforts.
The WILDLABS Tech Hub partners each represent substantial expertise in their fields, between them, covering the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, satellite applications, cloud computing, conservation and policy practice. They have bought this considerable resource to bear to provide diagnostic workshops, business model design sprints, collectively finding technology solutions to conservation problems.
Sophie Maxwell, from WILDLABS Tech Hub said:
“Now is the time to come together and deploy our combined technical resources and expertise to help tackle conservation problems on a global scale. WILDLABS Tech Hub is thrilled that technology companies big and small have come together, alongside governments and conservationists, to scale tech solutions to end wildlife crime. Only an integrated, collaborative approach will deliver sustainable solutions for tangible conservation impact.”
Professor Carole Mundell, Chief Scientific Adviser, Foreign & Commonwealth Office said:
“I am glad that the FCO had the foresight to invest in WILDLABS following last year’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference. The UN’s recent report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services shows that up to one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Wildlife crime contributes to the decline of threatened species and fuels organised crime and instability. The Illegal Wildlife trade urgently needs to be tackled, and this can only be done through innovative solutions and an international collaborative approach. Congratulations to WILDLABS Tech hub and its partners for leading the way.”
Jessica Rushworth, Director Policy & Strategy at Digital Catapult said:
“Digital Catapult is proud to collaborate on the WILDLABS Tech Hub to support and showcase companies in the emerging wildtech sector who are deploying technologies like AI, ML and IoT in the field to prevent poaching, assist with forensic examinations, map areas of illegal activity and use satellites to provide real-time data over large distances. These cutting edge technologies can be used around the world to help conservation efforts and the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.”
Stuart Martin, CEO of Satellite Applications Catapult said:
“Satellites have been able to track changes to our environment for decades, from analysing the effects of major natural disasters and deforestation to helping us understand wildlife migration patterns. WILDLABS Tech Hub represents the first time that we have tried to use a constellation of 10cm-class satellites to provide near real-time information on the location of endangered species. The Satellite Applications Catapult is proud to be part of a movement towards protecting the world’s most vulnerable species and their habitats, and I look forward to seeing the developments of all four participants.”