Technology for Conservation

Today, technology is helping conservationists to research, adapt and apply existing tools that can transform our understanding of the natural world and enhance our ability to monitor and mitigate human impacts on biodiversity. And advances in engineering are making a range of new technologies accessible for conservation uses.

Published Date: 2015/10/30

Among a spectrum of evolving tools, drones are being piloted for biodiversity monitoring, anti-poaching, habitat mapping and other applications. Battery and engineering advances are allowing wildlife tracking tags to last longer and transmit signals further. Environmental DNA is making biodiversity inventories possible from simple water and soil samples--replacing time and labor-intensive transects.

Over time, technology tools can proliferate to serve multiple conservation functions. For example, whereas population ecologists once relied on pugmarks to census big cats, camera traps now allow for accurate inventories in transboundary areas. Increasingly, these camera traps also document illegal activities that support enforcement responses.

Too often, technology tools are seen as solutions looking for a problem.

Partnerships with engineers are pushing boundaries to generate new technology tools that enhance efficiency. Networked sensors are being combined with image-recognition algorithms and acoustical-detection software for real-time data transfer and alerts. Such alerts can help farmers to prevent crop raiding by elephants, mobilize anti-poaching units, and support a range of other uses.

Too often, technology tools are seen as solutions looking for a problem. In order to maximize conservation benefits, it is essential that a user first defines the specific challenge that needs to be overcome, then considers what approaches are most appropriate, and finally decides whether introducing technology will help or complicate success.

Fundamentally, a tool is only as valuable as its user. Meeting conservation goals requires sustained support for rangers, resource managers, and community-based conservation activities. Without human resources behind them, even the most sophisticated technology tools can’t save species.