World Wildlife Day

World Wildlife Day
Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation
March 3, 2024

Ms. Olfa Karous

Ms. Olfa Karous
Engineer-doctor in agricultural sciences

Did you ever really pay attention to the murals on the walls of the world's museums, the flabbergasting poems that celebrate the beauty of nature, the breathtaking artworks of painters, the fascinating novels and ethnobotanical documents? They all keep taking us to a world that kept our predecessors deeply rooted in wildlife since the dawn of time. These works may in fact be artistic expressions or historical accounts, but they surely bear witness to the intimate and inseparable relationship that Man has forged with nature, as well as the heritage of local know-how and olden-time traditions. Yet, in the heart of the sprawling cities we keep building and expanding, there rings a cry of alarm. Before, wildlife used to be our most precious ally in our journey on Earth. Today, it faces a looming danger. Technological advances and blind urbanization have gradually broken the ever-existing connection we had with virgin forests, vast wildernesses and untamed species. The distance from nature generated collective ignorance that led to an inevitable widespread disinterest and the way to ecological degradation and collapse was quickly paved. Although often accused of being a thorn in the foot of nature, it seems like technology offers a glimmer of hope in this growing disorder and can lend a hand to reconnect with our environment. How can we put this synergy to good use and promote smooth coexistence between Man and Wildlife? 

Emerging technologies for wildlife conservation 
Wildlife studies used tools such as photo-traps and radio tracking. Recent decades have seen spectacular technology innovations, with increased availability of remotely sensed products, greater computing power and less expensive electronic components. Such a development made it possible to move from simple monitoring and research activities to concrete conservation actions. Recent technological advances, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), have become crucial tools for the preservation of wildlife in Africa. For example, the Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS) application leverages AI to foresee wildlife-related illegal activities and come up with the appropriate responses. Its integration into the SMART system has proven to be highly effective, particularly in Uganda. Similarly, the Instant Detect system, designed and developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) between 2016 and 2023, uses sensors and satellite technologies to monitor wildlife in real time and detect poaching threats, with proven successes in Kenya and Tanzania. The Connected Conservation Foundation which uses IoT to secure areas surrounding nature reserves in Africa, is another example one can be proud of. Through a point-to-point Access Network, sensors, CCTV cameras and biometric scans are used to collect and analyze data, making it possible for rangers to detect suspicious activities and take the necessary measures at an early stage.

World Wildlife Day

The technological revolution for the conservation of plants and bio-culture
Recent technological advances have profoundly changed the approach to the conservation of plants and bio-culture. In fact, digitized seagrass beds and the use of advanced satellite and drone imaging techniques, allow us to map and monitor natural habitats with unprecedented precision.
Advances in genomics and bioinformatics have considerably fostered the identification and characterization of plant species, thus opening new prospects for food security. These advances not only allow a better appreciation of the tremendously rich natural heritage, but also the implementation of targeted conservation strategies to protect threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems.
New technologies have also revolutionized ethnobotany and bioprospecting. The combination of data mining and AI makes it possible to efficiently explore ethnobotanical databases, thereby identifying wild plants having important traditional uses and natural resources having economic and medicinal potential. This innovative approach promotes local knowledge while opening new avenues for the use of wild plants.
The know-how virtual transfer could be an answer to the erosion of ethnobotanical knowledge and a guarantee to "cultural continuity" through online platforms, social networks or other digital media, thus promoting a simultaneous and global exchange between individuals and communities. Such a dissemination of information contributes to raising public awareness on the importance of biodiversity and the immediate need to have it preserved.

Technological convergence and conservation: towards an integrated approach for sustainable impact 
The challenge of wildlife conservation is truly complex and the future of conservation technology looks both promising and challenging. Its success depends on close collaboration between innovators and conservation stakeholders. On the one hand, it is important to make masterminds transform prototypes into practical and sustainable solutions on a global scale. On the other hand, these advances must smoothly adapt and fully integrate with local needs. Special focus must be placed on breaking the existing imbalances, in particular by wiping out the dependence of developing countries, rich in biodiversity, on developed countries. With this in mind, it looks imperative to bypass national borders to develop intelligent and equitable technological solutions in a world where conservation challenges are becoming global.
Only a holistic approach, taking into consideration the biological, cultural, human and environmental aspects of conservation, can have a lasting impact. However, even though the contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities to ecosystem management are recognized, the conservation of biocultural diversity often remains inadequately integrated, particularly in Africa. Here is why it is important to promote positive community engagement and support ecological and socio-economic sustainability, thereby enabling effective and long-lasting conservation.