It is estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their ivory. Once transported to countries in Asia, the tusks are usually shaped into ornaments and trinkets. There is also a huge demand for rhinoceros horn and tiger skins and parts, often used in traditional medicine.
Demand for these animals is so great that illegal poaching now threatens the survival of some species. Poaching is recognised as among the five most lucrative transnational criminal activities,1 with major poaching rings operating in many important and wellknown national parks. This illegal killing and trade of some of the world’s most iconic species has become one of the greatest threats to global conservation.
The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry (The Royal Foundation), based in London, is working to combat the illegal poaching and trading of endangered species around the world. Advances in technology represent an opportunity to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade and ultimately, to increase the populations of a number of endangered species. A spatial monitoring and research tool (SMART Connect) is designed to help rangers with surveillance and monitoring activities to strengthen site-based protection. It is being implemented in national parks globally. In partnership with Oak, The Royal Foundation will implement and upgrade technologies such as SMART Connect in two important conservations sites – one in Nepal and the other in the Republic of the Congo.
In the Parsa Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, The Royal Foundation’s on-site partner the Zoological Society of London will strengthen surveillance and communication support systems for anti-poaching operations with SMART Connect. The result will be a greater capacity to respond to wildlife incidents in real time, preventing tiger deaths from poaching and enabling law enforcement agencies to collect evidence, such as photographs, to be used in prosecuting wildlife criminals.
“We have been trained in SMART data collection and GPS handling,” said Sailendra Raj Giri, monitoring and surveillance officer at the Parsa Wildlife Reserve. “This technology has been very useful and we are in the process of introducing it to set up a Rapid Response Mechanism to stop all the illegal activities and make Parsa Wildlife Reserve a safer home for wildlife.”
While the focus is on tigers in Nepal, other species such as Asian elephants, leopards and gaur (also known as the Indian bison) will also benefit from the added protection.
In the Republic of the Congo, The Royal Foundation’s on-site partner the Wildlife Conservation Society works with local staff to provide SMART technology. By upgrading existing technologies to SMART Connect, which offers more protection, rangers will have the technology they need to alert law enforcers when they come across poachers. Given the size of the national parks in the Republic of the Congo, the implementation of SMART Connect will rely on satellite tracking devices and will primarily be used to help rangers prevent elephant poaching.
The Nouabale-Ndoki National Park is an enormous park in the north of the Republic of the Congo, stretching across more than 3,900 square kilometres and mostly comprised of tropical rainforest. There are no people living in the park and the impact of this surge in poaching had, until recently, been restricted to the park’s outskirts. However, the discovery of an elephant’s carcass close to the national park’s headquarters in February 2015 revealed a major poaching ring operating in the area. SMART Connect will be rolled out and once it is up and running, Nouabale-Ndoki National Park can be used as a pilot site for roll-out in other locations.
“We are really excited about the impact of implementing SMART Connect in conservation parks in Nepal and Republic of the Congo,” said Sian Bartram, director of development at The Royal Foundation. “We are sure it will make a diff erence to our conservation efforts and we hope we will be able to help park rangers keep endangered animals safe.”
1. U.S Department of State, ‘The Escalating International Wildlife Trafficking Crisis: Ecological, Economic, and National Security Issues http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/rm/2014/226421.htm (accessed 18 January 2016)
SMART Connect is designed to help rangers strengthen sitebased protection of national parks.