Using Technology to Combat Wildlife Crime


James Morgan, International League of Conservation Photographers, National Geographic

Date Published

See link for photos.

Back in 2012, I worked with World Wildlife Fund to cover a story on the link between wildlife crime and terrorism. I spent time with rangers in both West and East Africa and then followed the trade networks into China and Thailand. At the time, the loss of both wildlife and human life was spiraling out of control. Four years later, the situation has escalated. In March of this year I went back to East Africa, this time to the Maasai Mara, to see first-hand how the battle against poachers and wildlife crime had evolved.

In an attempt to level the playing field, WWF is working with thermal imaging camera manufacturer FLIR to develop a new anti-poaching system – one that combines thermal imaging cameras and human detection software. This is one of the first times this technology has been used outside of the military and law enforcement, to protect wildlife.

Whilst in the Mara we worked with Mara Conservancy rangers and Kenya Wildlife Service to install FLIR technology at two sites: on a mobile patrol unit in the Mara, where we took it out on a test night patrol. And at an undisclosed wildlife park in Kenya, where stationary FLIR units were installed.

“Wildlife rangers now have the help they’ve desperately needed.” says Colby Loucks, WWF’s wildlife crime technology lead. “This groundbreaking technology allows them to search for poachers 24 hours a day, from up to a mile away, in pitch darkness. It’s upping the game in our fight to stop wildlife crime across the region.”

Since the technology was installed, more than two dozen poachers have been arrested. The ability to see (and crucially drive) in the dark without using headlights could prove a crucial milestone in the fight against wildlife crime. The hope is that the more effective the technology becomes the stronger a deterrent it will be. The aim isn’t just to make arrests but to dissuade potential poachers from entering national parks.

WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology project is enabled by a grant from Further work is happening throughout the continent, with anti-poaching drone test flights beginning in Zimbabwe and Malawiin October.