Can iPhone Save Our Wildlife?

4 SUR­PRIS­ING WAYS MO­BILE TECH­NOL­OGY IS SAV­ING WILDLIFE

iPhone Life Magazine - - Front Page - BY RHEANNE TAYLOR

When we think of to­day's ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, we tend to think about how tech­nol­ogy is de­stroy­ing the nat­u­ral world, not bet­ter­ing it. We think of how in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment leads to de­for­esta­tion, and how avid con­sumerism and ex­cess waste pol­lutes the en­vi­ron­ment and takes a toll on nat­u­ral re­sources. And in a lot of ways, we're right. After all, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 study pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence, the Earth is en­ter­ing its sixth mass ex­tinc­tion, and we're the ones to blame. We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a hu­man-driven loss of many of our fa­vorite species, with a third of all ver­te­brates and 45 per­cent of in­ver­te­brates now clas­si­fied as en­dan­gered—with am­phib­ians tak­ing the brunt of the blow.

For­tu­nately, sci­en­tists haven't given up hope for our planet, sug­gest­ing that a greater fo­cus on con­ser­va­tion could pre­vent us from los­ing many of the Earth's species—and tech­nol­ogy could play a key role in that. To­day, sci­en­tists and engi­neers around the globe are work­ing hard to use tech­nol­ogy in a pos­i­tive way that leaves the Earth bet­ter off for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Cer­tainly the rise of tech­nol­ogy has had its neg­a­tive con­se­quences, but it is also help­ing pave the way to a bet­ter world, and per­haps in ways that you least sus­pect. The fol­low­ing ex­am­ples il­lus­trate how sci­en­tists are bridg­ing the gap be­tween tech­nol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion.

DOC­U­MEN­TARIES CHANGE WORLD­VIEWS

Videos are an ef­fec­tive plat­form to ed­u­cate peo­ple world­wide about is­sues that mat­ter. GoPro, which cre­ates smart­phonecon­trolled sports ac­tion cam­eras, ex­cels in this area, mak­ing

"A GREATER FO­CUS ON CON­SER­VA­TION COULD PRE­VENT US FROM LOS­ING MANY OF THE EARTH’S SPECIES—AND TECH­NOL­OGY COULD PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THAT."

it pos­si­ble for every­day peo­ple to cre­ate high-def­i­ni­tion videos that place the viewer in the cen­ter of the ac­tion. The com­pany has cre­ated a se­ries of short videos and doc­u­men­taries, many of which aim to demon­strate what you can do with GoPro's prod­ucts as well as raise aware­ness re­gard­ing im­por­tant is­sues. These videos have fea­tured ev­ery­thing from peo­ple swim­ming with hump­back whales in the ocean to con­ser­va­tion­ists re­leas­ing re­ha­bil­i­tated vul­tures back into the wild.

One of the most mov­ing videos I've seen by GoPro is ti­tled “Lions—The New En­dan­gered Species,” and fea­tures lion con­ser­va­tion­ist Kevin Richard­son in­ter­act­ing with lions on a South African pre­serve. In it he dis­cusses the dan­gers of habi­tat loss and the fu­ture of Africa's big cats.

“When a species dis­ap­pears from a habi­tat, one's got to look at why,” Richard­son notes in the video. “Talk about any species and you've got the same dilemma: habi­tat loss…. Even in re­serves, the area's just not big enough.”

In the video, Richard­son has a GoPro mounted to his shoul­der, al­low­ing you to see the lions through his eyes. The heart­warm­ing way that the lions nuz­zled Richard­son's face and wres­tled with him play­fully changed my per­spec­tive and cre­ated an in­stant con­nec­tion be­tween me and the sub­ject at hand. Im­me­di­ately I cared about their fu­ture, and I imag­ine other peo­ple felt the same. For the first time, I con­sid­ered a world with­out lions, and that idea sad­dened me. This ex­peri- ence made me re­al­ize some­thing im­por­tant: our abil­ity to record in­for­ma­tion and share it with oth­ers al­lows us to con­nect with the world in an un­prece­dented way. And that, in it­self, is pretty re­mark­able.

DRONES SPOT POACH­ERS IN WILDLIFE RE­SERVES

Yes, drones are, in fact, used for more than com­bat mis­sions or snap­ping aerial shots of your front lawn and freak­ing out the lo­cal pi­geons. Con­ser­va­tion­ists are us­ing them to help fight poach­ing, mon­i­tor species' pop­u­la­tion, pre­vent de­for­esta­tion, and sur­vey habi­tat in ar­eas that are dif­fi­cult to ac­cess by foot. Pre­vi­ously, rangers had to gather data and sur­vey land in per­son, a job that was time-con­sum­ing, ex­pen­sive, and of­ten­times dan­ger­ous.

Drones are par­tic­u­larly use­ful in the fight against poach­ing, as they are able to eas­ily scope out and lo­cate in­trud­ers with­out dis­turb­ing wildlife, mak­ing it eas­ier for rangers to track them down be­fore any ele­phants, rhi­nos, or tigers have been killed. In 2014, drones dra­mat­i­cally de­creased poach­ing in a Kenyan wildlife re­serve by up to 96 per­cent—an in­cred­i­ble feat! And after re­ceiv­ing a $5 mil­lion grant from Google in 2012, the World Wildlife Fund be­gan test­ing drones in re­mote ar­eas in Africa

"IN IN­DIA, THE USE OF TEXT MES­SAG­ING IS AL­LOW­ING HU­MANS AND ELE­PHANTS TO PEACE­FULLY COEXIST IN A WAY THEY NEVER HAVE BE­FORE."

and Asia where en­dan­gered species are most vul­ner­a­ble to poach­ing and traf­fick­ing.

“We need so­lu­tions that are as so­phis­ti­cated as the threats we face,” WWF Pres­i­dent Carter Roberts said in a state­ment.

Of course, it is ar­gued that drones can also cause more harm than good. In 2014, the US Na­tional Park Ser­vice banned the use of drones in parks after a drone dis­turbed a herd of bighorn sheep in Zion Na­tional Park in Utah, caus­ing the sheep to scat­ter and sep­a­rat­ing some of the young from their moth­ers. But many con­ser­va­tion­ists re­main op­ti­mistic about the role that drones play in man­ag­ing wildlife. When it comes down to it, drones are still a rel­a­tively new tech­nol­ogy. I imag­ine a fu­ture in which drones are much qui­eter and can gather data from much far­ther away. For now, this tech­nol­ogy is al­ready help­ing bet­ter the planet in a way we never knew pos­si­ble, al­low­ing sci­en­tists ac­cess to re­mote lo­ca­tions and the abil­ity to ob­serve wildlife from a safe dis­tance.

TEXT MES­SAGES SAVE ELE­PHANTS IN IN­DIA

Be­lieve it or not, in In­dia, the use of text mes­sag­ing is al­low­ing hu­mans and ele­phants to peace­fully coexist in a way they never have be­fore. Val­parai, a town lo­cated in South In­dia, is cur­rently home to cen­tury-old tea and cof­fee plan­ta­tions that stretch across thou­sands of acres. These plan­ta­tions are nes­tled in be­tween patches of pro­tected forests, which means ele­phants of­ten cross the plan­ta­tions to reach forests on the other side. Un­for­tu­nately, that means ele­phants also have run-ins with hu­mans—and these en­coun­ters can some­times turn deadly, for both par­ties. Be­tween 1994 and 2013, 41 peo­ple were killed by ele­phants, not be­cause ele­phants are nat­u­rally vi­o­lent, but be­cause they at­tack if they feel they are in danger. On top of all that, ele­phants have been known to dam­age prop­erty and raid food stor­age, which nei­ther man­age­ment nor the plan­ta­tion work­ers have taken lightly.

As peo­ples' tol­er­ance to­ward the ele­phants de­creased, the Na­ture Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion (NCF)—a wildlife and con­ser­va­tion re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion—de­cided it was time to take ac­tion. NCF re­al­ized that peo­ple needed some sort of warn­ing sys­tem to alert peo­ple of ele­phants nearby. The out­come? An early warn­ing sys­tem that sends text mes­sages to res­i­dents' phones when ele­phants have been spot­ted in the area. Since the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new sys­tem, not a sin­gle per­son has died, which is good news for ele­phants too, since hu­mans have been known to lash out in anger to­ward ele­phants that have de­stroyed prop­erty or hurt loved ones.

Due to the suc­cess of this project, it's likely to be repli­cated in other re­gions where con­flict with wildlife is an issue, thereby al­low­ing peo­ple to more com­fort­ably coexist with na­ture. And here you thought tex­ting was just a con­ve­nient way to get ahold of your friends and fam­ily!

VIR­TUAL RE­AL­ITY HELPS SCI­EN­TISTS PRO­TECT JAGUARS

Much of what you know about vir­tual re­al­ity prob­a­bly in­volves gam­ing in one form or an­other. But did you know that vir­tual re­al­ity could soon play a key role in help­ing us pro­tect en­dan­gered species from ex­tinc­tion? That's ex­actly what Ker­rie Mengersen, pro­fes­sor at Queens­land Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, aims to do.

Mengersen and her team sought out en­dan­gered jaguars on a re­cent ex­pe­di­tion to Peru, where the big cats are dwin­dling in num­bers due to habi­tat loss and hunt­ing. While Mengersen was there, she set up mul­ti­ple GoPro cam­eras in pop­u­lar jaguar habi­tats, al­low­ing her and her team to record 360-de­gree video. They then strung these clips to­gether to cre­ate an im­mer­sive vir­tual-re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence for ex­perts and the pub­lic alike, many of which can be viewed us­ing the JaguarVR app for An­droid phones when wear­ing Google Card­board or Ocu­lus de­vices. Mengersen's mis­sion is sim­ple: to ul­ti­mately ed­u­cate the pub­lic and in­still an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the en­vi­ron­ment. You might not ac­tu­ally be in jaguar habi­tat, but it kind of feels like you are, and that can switch your per­spec­tive.

But vir­tual re­al­ity also has an­other pur­pose: it al­lows ex­perts to view footage from miles away and de­ter­mine whether any jaguars are in the area. By im­mers­ing them­selves in the en­vi­ron­ment, sci­en­tists can gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the jaguar pop­u­la­tion sim­ply based off of the signs present—like whether there is wa­ter nearby or whether there are fruit trees that would at­tract prey. Mengersen also hopes that the videos, along with math­e­mat­i­cal and sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el­ing, could de­ter­mine which ar­eas of Peru­vian land could serve as po­ten­tial jaguar cor­ri­dors— i.e. strips of land that jaguars use to travel from one area of for­est to an­other.

WHAT THE FU­TURE HOLDS

The rise of tech­nol­ogy can feel daunt­ing when we con­sider the reper­cus­sions it is caus­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment and our wildlife. But it's im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that tech­nol­ogy, in it­self, is not all bad. The fu­ture of the planet de­pends on how we use tech­nol­ogy, not if we use it, and that knowl­edge is al­ready cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive shift in the world.

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