Our planet is in trouble. The climate is warming too fast. Entire species of animals are disappearing at alarming rates. It might seem like humans have done too much damage—that we’re in too deep to be saved—but humans might also be the saving grace of this planet. Technology is making strides every day toward saving endangered species. It’s an unlikely pair, technology and animal conservation, but if you look at all the ways people are using technology to protect endangered species, you’ll see that technology and animal conservation are moving in the right direction.
Here is a compilation of 10 of the most impressive and important ways that technology is saving endangered species. Thank you to those tech warriors fighting the good fight for animal conservation.
1. 3-D Printed Synthetic Rhinoceros Horn
You may not be aware of it, but rhino are under serious attack every day. The black market trade for their horns is booming, leading to rhino slaughters at ridiculous rates. Just recently, poachers went further than ever before, breaking into a zoo in Paris, shooting a rhino point-blank, and stealing its horn. Criminals looking to make serious cash have even broken into museums across Europe to steal horns from taxidermic rhino heads—worth around $300,000!
This black market is seriously depleting rhino populations around the globe. For some types of rhino, there are less than 100 still living on the Earth.
To help stop poachers from killing rhinos just for their horns, San Francisco-based biotechnology company Pembient has developed a synthetic rhino horn that is actually purer than what occurs in nature. With the help of a 3-D printer technology, Pembient is able to produce rhino horns from keratin and rhino DNA. The result is a real rhino horn that doesn’t require any rhinos to die. The company plans to sell them to markets that want the rhino horn because of its believed ability to cure cancer and other health problems—at a price that undercuts that black market. If the plan works, fewer rhinos will have to die.
2. “Smart” Collars
GPS and accelerometer technology have come such a long way. Just think about how much more we can do with our phones than we could five or even just two years ago. That technology is now being put to use in animal conservation efforts. Companies are leveraging GPS and accelerometer technology into so-called “smart” collars that track species throughout their lives.
The smart collars collect and show a wealth of information about how endangered species behave—like where they hunt, migration patterns, etc. The hope is that through careful study of the data smart collars provide, that human-animal conflict can be reduced. For example, if we know a certain species takes a direct hunting route every year, we can avoid putting human buildings or housing in that area. Allowing the animals to have their own space can prevent killings of animals through human misunderstandings.
3. Google Earth
Google’s satellite mapping technology, Google Earth, is more than just a way to see your house on the Internet. We’ve all used the technology to find where we’re going or scope out a new business, but the mapping technology is being used for conservation efforts across the globe too.
Because Google has cameras pointed at seemingly every corner of the Earth, scientists and conservationists are now utilizing the technology to protect animals. For example, the World Wildlife Fund developed a virtual tour using Google Earth to help raise awareness of how logging was threatening the Sumatran Tiger’s habit in the Bukit Tigapuluh forest in Sumatra. The tour is helping to put pressure on paper companies to stop logging in the area.
Save the Elephants is another organization using Google Earth for animal causes. The organization uses the technology to track elephants’ migration patterns, which allows them to know which areas need protection from poachers and other threats.
Populations of cetaceans—sea-dwelling animals such as whales and dolphins—have been declining rapidly around the globe in recent decades due to overfishing and unsafe fishing practices. Luckily, technology is stepping in to help stop cetaceans from being entangled in fishing lines.
The technology is a device called a “pinger.” A pinger is a hi-tech device fishers are now attaching to fishing nets that emits a sonic pulse. Dolphins, whales, and other cetaceans are hypersensitive to sonic pulses in the water, so the pingers make it crystal clear that there is something to be avoided near the commercial fishing nets. Since the pingers have been implemented, significantly fewer cetaceans are ending up in nets around the world.
Remote-controlled flying drones are one of the most interesting technologies to emerge in recent years. These flying wonders have been leveraged for a multitude of uses from sweet aerial videos to military warfare to same-day package delivery.
Some scientists and conservationists have started employing drone technology to help animal conservation. In the wildlife-rich African country of Kenya, drones accompany teams of sniffer dogs and armed patrol with a thermal camera that helps teams to stop poachers. The advantage of using a drone over other methods to catch poachers is the silent flight of the devices. Poachers can be caught on camera without ever knowing a drone is around. The Kenyan government has now dispatched drones to all 52 National Parks.