Elephant Appreciation Day is Sept. 22, but protecting these threatened species is a year-round effort. Both species of elephants — African and Asian — are endangered, with less than 400,000 of the former and just 40,000 of the latter remaining worldwide.
Sadly, elephants aren’t the only wild animals facing extinction. It is estimated that illegal wildlife trade generates up to $10 billion annually — with a surge in demand for elephant ivory, rhino horns and tiger products — according to the World Wildlife Fund, but activists across the globe have joined forces to fight back. Take a look at these awesome ways organizations are working hard to make poaching a thing of the past.
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WWF's Wildlife Crime Technology Project
In 2012, Google gave the World Wildlife Fund a $5 million Global Impact Award to use technology to end conservation crime. The Wildlife Crime Technology Project was conceived from this, with the goal of putting a stop to poaching.
WWF used the grant from Google to create several anti-poaching tools.
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The tools created included new thermal and infrared camera and software system with the ability to spot poachers from a distance and notify park rangers they’re on the grounds. Two different systems were designed for the test run at a national park in central Kenya. Both contained infrared cameras, including one with stationary poles surrounding the perimeter of a park and another in the form of a mobile unit placed on top of the park rangers’ trucks.
Most recently, in August 2017, the WWF installed long-range FLIR cameras with artificial intelligence at a Malawi national park to spot poachers entering through a river route.
Rhino Horn Infusion
Founded in 2010, the Rhino Rescue Project works to stop poaching by devaluing rhino horns. The only legal treatment currently available, horns are infused with a compound of ectoparasiticides and indelible dye that contaminates it, stripping it of ornamental and medicinal use. A DNA sample is collected and three identification microchips are placed into the horns and the rhino.
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Horn treatment is meant to be effective for roughly three to four years — an entire horn growth cycle. All products used are eco-friendly and biodegradable.
The procedure poses no harm to the animal, beyond the general small risk from immobilizing it. Currently, less than 2 percent of all treated rhinos have died from poaching or other causes.
Poachers destroy more than 90 percent of sea turtle nests on many Central American beaches, according to Paso Pacifico, a nonprofit committed to restoring and protecting the Pacific Slope ecosytems of Mesoamerica. Over the past 10 years, the group’s rangers have protected more than 50,000 turtle eggs, but its InvestEGGator invention could lead to even more impressive results.
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A winner of USAID’s 2016 Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge and an Acceleration Prize in 2017, the InvestEGGator is a dummy turtle egg outfitted with a GSM-GPS tracking device. When in motion, it transmits real-time data highlighting illegal egg poaching and transportation.
The InvestEGGator isn’t yet available for widespread use, but Paso Pacifico is working to create a design and production process that makes it accessible to others who want to help combat the poaching of sea turtle eggs.
WIPER: Wireless Anti-Poaching Collar
Vanderbilt University computer engineering faculty and Colorado State University have joined forces to create WIPER, a wireless anti-poaching collar. In 2017, the project placed second in Vodafone’s annual Wireless Innovation Project, scoring a $200,000 grant.
Phase three trials are expected to start in summer 2019, so WIPER could make it to market as soon as 2020.
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When a shot is detected near a protected species, WIPER sends a real-time alert to authorities, complete with a GPS location. The device is incorporated into existing GPS tracking collars used on a variety of animals.
WIPER has the ability to sense the ballistic shockwave produced by a poacher’s bullet that can’t be stifled by suppressors. This invention is the first use of shockwave detection technology in the fight against African elephant poaching.
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Advanced Surveillance Drone Technology
An initiative of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, Air Shepherd uses drones to fight elephant and rhino poaching. A single elephant tusk can bring in more than $75,000, and rhino horns are worth more than $65,000 per kilo on the black market, according to the foundation.
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The group works with local intelligence officials to recognize threats to these endangered species, fly surveillance drones and analyze data in real-time and radio local rangers when potential poachers are spotted.
Since its inception, Air Shepherd has logged 6,000 flight hours, completed 4,000 missions and built a presence in three countries — Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Created by TRAFFIC — the wildlife trade monitoring network — and WWF-U.K., TradeMapper is used to map wildlife trade data. This tool makes it easy for the non-governmental organization to gain a better understanding of its data and produce maps for reports and presentations.
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TRAFFIC is also working on several other conservation projects. Some of these include ReTTA — which aims to conserve wildlife populations, regions with high biodiversity and communities susceptible to illegal wildlife trade from Africa — and the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species Partnership — which aspires to end wildlife trafficking by decreasing the use of legal transportation supply chains.
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PAWS: Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security
Created by Milind Tambe — a computer scientist at the University of Southern California — and his team, PAWS: Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security, is an artificial intelligence system that predicts poaching hotspots. Using basic information about protected areas and details about prior patrolling and poaching activities, PAWS is able to forecast where poaching might happen next and suggest patrol routes to those fighting poachers.
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The winner of Best Application of Artificial Intelligence at the 2016 AAAI Video Competition, PAWS aims to catch poachers in their tracks. Its algorithm combines poachers’ behavior, game-theoretic reasoning and route planning to help patrollers get on the right path. Predicting where the next attack will happen can successfully thwart poaching activity.
Veterans 4 Wildlife
An international charity committed to protecting Africa’s wildlife and endangered species, Veterans for Wildlife is composed of former service personnel committed to saving animals. The group aims to support conservation groups and rangers and empower military veterans to use their skills to make a positive contribution to society.
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The group offers a range of assistance to local citizens and authorities working to protect wildlife in Africa. This includes operational support — i.e., intelligence, surveillance, communications and other assistance — and providing education to local residents and organizations to strengthen ground-level initiatives.
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Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit
Established in 2013, the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit guards all boundaries of the Balule Nature Reserve, located in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park. The female-dominated anti-poaching group aims to make the area an undesirable place for poachers.
Serving as the first line of defense against rhino poaching, the Black Mambas conduct daily patrols from dawn to dusk.
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The group also provides education to their local communities, helping people realize the benefits of rhino conservation outweigh any rewards from poaching.
The Black Mambas also established the Bush Babies Environmental Education Program, with the goal of creating a long-term solution to poaching. At present, the program serves 870 children between the ages of 12 to 15.
Big Life Foundation
Established in 2010, the Big Life Foundation was the first East Africa organization to create coordinated cross-border anti-poaching initiatives. The foundation guards more than 1.6 million acres of wilderness in East Africa’s Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem.
Since it was created, Big Life has expanded its reach to employ hundreds of local Massai rangers. Its ranger teams are located on both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border.
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Big Life’s teams organize the pursuit and arrest of poachers attempting to cross the border. Before the foundation was established, they were able to escape with impunity.
Strong partnerships with local communities has allowed Big Life teams to catch most poachers when they kill. Big Life made 1,030 arrests and confiscated 3,012 weapons during its first 31 months in operation, so it will be interesting to see what the foundation can do long term.
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Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife was created to help stop poaching in Africa and assist in the conservation of endangered species. Using skilled Post-9/11 U.S. veterans, the group trains park rangers to better serve their local communities.
Training, support, logistics, equipment, security and patrols are conducted free of charge, with the shared goal of protecting wildlife. Veterans also help rangers and law enforcement identify, track and arrest poachers and their leaders.
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The nonprofit has launched multiple missions, including Operation Rhino Shield in May 2016 and Operation Tanzania in spring 2015. For the latter, the group trained 400 local park rangers and provided aid to the Tanzanian Wildlife Anti-Crimes Task Force that led to the arrest of 50 suspected poachers.
Unlike many wildlife conservation groups, WildAid doesn’t directly focus on anti-poaching efforts. Instead, the nonprofit concentrates on decreasing global consumption of wildlife products and encouraging local residents to take part in conservation efforts.
WildAid also works in conjunction with governments and partners to raise awareness for anti-poaching efforts, protect marine reserves from illegal fishing and shark finning and lessen the impact of climate change.
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Known for creating influential media campaigns, WildAid receives approximately $300 million in media placement donations annually. The nonprofit has a library of PSAs featuring influential figures, including a PSA on tiger poaching starring Richard Branson.
WildAid has also provided training to more than 300 customs and anti-smuggling polices officers in China to help them spot illegal pangolin products. The nonprofit has created several Pangolin PSAs, starring big names like Maggie Q and Jackie Chan.
International Fund for Animal Welfare
Founded in 1969, the International Fund for Animal Welfare rescues animals, safeguards populations, preserves habitats and performs advocacy. The nonprofit teams up with communities and enforcers to put a stop to poaching networks.
IFAW’s work spans a variety of areas, including strengthening global wildlife trade policy, boosting law enforcement, lowering the demand for wildlife products and making wildlife cybercrime a thing of the past.
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IFAW has made major strides in the fight against poaching. For example, the nonprofit has trained more than 2,900 customs and wildlife law enforcement officers in nearly 40 countries to recognize and stop the trafficking of illegal wildlife products across international borders.
The organization also campaigns for animals through a variety of international agreements and organizations, including the United Nations Universal Declaration for Animal Welfare, European Union and The International Organisation for Animal Health.
Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online
Members of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online are in a position to majorly limit the sale of illegal wildlife products. By sharing lessons learned and best practices, these companies are able to get on the same page and put on a united front against poachers and their associates.
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The WWF, TRAFFIC and IFAW are also able to use their wildlife knowledge to help companies uncover illegal products marketed on their sites and become better educated on the illegal wildlife trade.
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United for Wildlife
Established by The Royal Foundation, United for Wildlife is led by The Duke of Cambridge. The nonprofit works to bring top wildlife charities across the globe together to make real change happen.
The United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce was created in 2014 to help the transport sector understand the role it plays in the illegal wildlife trade and find ways to fight back. The task force consists of high-level transport industry leaders, conservation experts and organizations already working to stop illegal trafficking.
In November 2017, United for Wildlife released a statement that the Duke of Cambridge’s partnership with the transit sector had culminated in seized ivory, rhino horn and tiger teeth during the previous six months.
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After the signing of the group’s Buckingham Palace Declaration in March 2016, those who joined forces under the agreement made creating a system to share information a priority. Since the system was initiated in March 2017, a total of 25,000 global transport employees have received training to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
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