The Future of Conservation: EarthRanger and African Parks

Bridging the Gap Between Communication and Conservation Efforts with Cutting Edge Technology

In an attempt to improve biodiversity protection in some of Africa’s most remote locations, African Parks has become a committed user of EarthRanger – cutting edge technology which is leading the way in modern conservation efforts. Thanks to this innovative software, methods to safeguard vulnerable wildlife species in protected areas across the continent are being revolutionised.

EarthRanger is a data integration, visualisation and analysis platform which gives the African Parks’ park management teams a real-time tool that helps keep the wildlife and communities living in and around protected areas safe. By combining data from ranger patrols, remote imaging, and various sensors, accurate monitoring information is received from the field and accessible through EarthRanger to assist with anti-poaching efforts and wildlife monitoring.  

The platform also gives rangers a data-driven method to help respond to human-wildlife conflict by receiving information that then allows quick response teams to mitigate the conflict.

“African Parks has established a fantastic example of how conservation programmes can get the most out of EarthRanger and related technologies,” says EarthRanger’s director, Jes Lefcourt. “The use of the tool across the organisation demonstrates the power of data-driven decision making in managing protected areas, protecting the wildlife that live there, and supporting the people who live in surrounding areas.”

© EarthRanger
African Parks and EarthRanger formed their partnership in 2015 to help bolster conservation efforts. © EarthRanger

Technology to enhance biodiversity conservation

“The software is helping us manage parks more effectively,” says African Parks conservation technology engineer, Jordi van Oort. “One of the major expenses in conserving and managing large landscapes is fuel for vehicles, boats, helicopters and airplanes. With EarthRanger, tapping into modern tracking devices and software, we are able to see where wildlife or ranger patrol teams are in real-time, enabling a quicker and more efficient response. In this way, EarthRanger, allows us to reduce fuel expenses dramatically by not having to use vehicles to search for what we can see in the control room. With tight conservation budgets, savings like these enable us to focus more on effective conservation.”

In the Republic of the Congo, the software has streamlined the way gorillas are being monitored and protected in Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Primatologist, Jeanne Legras, says gorilla trackers used to collect data on paper before EarthRanger. “It is a challenge working in a closed forest, which makes it difficult to get exact coordinates, but with EarthRanger, everything is made easier from a data capture perspective. Everyone collects the same data in the same way. Once the device is connected to Wi-Fi, the data is sent directly to a computer and is accessible, no matter where you are. All information is also easily managed, which decreases errors when collecting and analysing the data.”

© Michael Viljoen
Monitoring the critically endangered western lowland gorilla in Odzala National Park is more effective with EarthRanger technology. © Michael Viljoen

For community members around Odzala-Kokoua, EarthRanger has meant a real-time connection to the park. Joel Akongo lives in Ebana village with his family and works with African Parks within the Eco-team - which consists of several groups of community members collaborating in different conservation activities in Odzala. The five members of his team are in charge of monitoring and collecting data on a habituated group of gorillas for a few days a week. “We were trained by African Parks on how to use EarthRanger. It is a very direct method to register the data when spotting a gorilla or reporting any relevant detail,” says Akongo.

In addition, EarthRanger is helping to bridge the gap in communities where wildlife custodians like Akongo see the technology’s value in mitigating human-wildlife conflict. “If there are some problems, like when elephants damaged some of my mother’s crops, I try to calm my family and neighbours and contact the park, so that they can log the incident into EarthRanger to help prevent these problems happening again.”

Apart from monitoring and helping to improve human-wildlife coexistence, EarthRanger tech provides significant new insight into wildlife behaviour by displaying all historical and available data which is reported from the field in one unified view. This includes the use of acoustic sensors, tracking collars, satellite imagery, and asset trackers and helps paint a holistic picture of wildlife movement, giving conservationists a glimpse into the lives and social behaviours of the animals they are protecting.

© Irene Galera
EarthRanger technology improves communications and research in the field © Irene Galera

Advancing the EarthRanger - Africa Parks Partnership

Some exciting new improvements from the EarthRanger - African Parks partnership are on the horizon, including new advanced technological capabilities through the platform’s mobile app. This software now allows users to trace around an area, as opposed to using only a pinpoint location. This has significant value in measuring fire damage, and in establishing the scale of invasive flora in a particular area. “In cases where crops have been raided by elephants, this new feature can map the exact affected area to inform compensation for impacted families, which contributes to human-wildlife coexistence,” explains Lefcourt.

In November 2022, the Global Environment Facility Council approved a US$7.2 million project to deploy EarthRanger to support the management of nearly five million hectares of protected areas across six national parks in Africa, of which Odzala- Kokoua National Park, managed by African Parks, is included. The three-and-a-half-year project will allow for improved infrastructure such as operations rooms, vehicle and animal tracking devices, and communication networks such as long-range radio. These improvements will increase the effectiveness of conservation technologies like EarthRanger and others to protect critically important ecosystems that are often in areas with very limited connectivity and in challenging environments.

As part of its standard operating procedure, African Parks uses EarthRanger in all 22 of the parks under management across 12 African countries.

22 May 2023 - Guest blogger: Louzel Lombard

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