It was summer 2016, and I had been travelling down a dirt road in central Tanzania for two days heading to the location of a big, red dot on a heat map of elephant carcasses—an area identified as a “slaughterhouse.” That heat map was derived from data from Paul G. Allen’s Great Elephant Census
(GEC - read Vulcan’s summary
of GEC findings), identifying one area as the epicenter of the poaching crisis in the country. The reason for the poaching became clear upon my arrival—there had been a game scout post at that location that had long been abandoned, and in its place the outpost was being used by poachers as a staging ground for their atrocities against elephants. The reason this post was abandoned was a lack of supplies and targeted information. The game scouts lacked vehicles that could enter the outpost during the rainy season. Before the GEC that counted elephants all over Africa, there was a lack of data indicating how critical a piece of the puzzle that outpost was in fighting the poaching scourge devastating elephant populations.
Shana examining the remains of an elephant carcass in Tanzania.
Before starting work at Vulcan on the Impact team, I worked as the Wildlife Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania and leveraged the data from the GEC to enact policies to support wildlife conservation for the U.S. government. Now, as a domain expert at Vulcan, I bring a unique perspective on how data combined with technology can be a powerful tool against wildlife poaching and other crimes against wildlife, both terrestrial and marine.
In my line of work, I sometimes hear the common misconception that there is a lack of information about elephant poaching. It is more nuanced in my opinion. There is a lack of precise and targeted information; information that is derived from data.
This is where Vulcan comes in. Technology like Vulcan’s EarthRanger
shines a light on data and transforms it into actionable information—and then gets it into the hands of someone who can do something with it.
Whether you are a coast guard, a wildlife ranger, or an e-commerce site selling products, you need awareness of what is happening in your area. And because technology is agnostic, it can tell you what is really happening and arm you with information in a way that allows you to take action. This is possible because of a several key technology characteristics:
- Technology has the ability to tell the truth and tell you what is really happening. We continue to strive for better data collection methods to provide unbiased results.
- Technology is precise. Technology doesn’t tell anecdotes like, “I think a lion ate your cow.” It tells you precisely where the lion was and allows for better interventions and decisions.
- Technology can be closer to real-time than human powered analysis on its own. Whether you’re a captain of a vessel or a wildlife ranger, you need real-time alerts and technology allows for that.
- Technology can be automated. Most of what we do to protect our assets—terrestrial wildlife, cattle, fish, we do it manually. Technology helps most efficiently allocate scarce resources and use human capital where it provides the greatest impact.
- Technology enables decision-makers to do their jobs better and faster. Whether you are a park official trying to reach an elephant that has stopped moving or deploying resources to disrupt a suspected poaching incident, with technology on your side, you are armed with targeted information more quickly.
- Technology, by proxy, can help you manage your human resources most efficiently. Ultimately, whether you are protecting fish or elephants, you rely on humans and understanding where they are and what they are doing helps you protect your assets.
Technology, for all its great qualities, is not going to solve all of our problems. Its true power lies in its ability to enhance the capabilities of people trying to do great work, and in that way it can play a critical role. From 50,000 sq. km parks in Africa to millions of sq. km of oceans, technology can be used to help humans better manage land and water resources—and in turn, protect millions of wildlife species across the world.