Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation

Dr Pankaj Chandan
Every year 3rd of March is celebrated as World Wildlife Day. Such International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of common concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The World WildlifeDay helps us to highlight the unique roles and contributions of wildlife to people and the planet. During his last Sunday’s 110th episode of famous radio programme “Maan Ki Baat” our Prime Minister Narendra, Modi mentioned about the World Wildlife Day being celebrated across the globe on 3rd March. Giving details about the upcoming World Wildlife Day, PM Modi said that the theme of 2024 World Wildlife Day is “Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovations in Wildlife Conservation”. This theme is based on the key role that technology and digital innovation is playing today in wildlife conservation. During this address PM also highlighted very key wildlife conservation programmes being run in the country to save wildlife using digital innovation and technology.
Here it is important to know that what are the digital innovations that are driving wildlife conservation right now. In present era Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming our every sphere of life. With advancements in technology, wildlife biologists and conservationists are harnessing the power of digital tools and data driven approaches to protect and preserve our planet’s biodiversity. This article besides highlighting the importance of World Wildlife Day 2024 also explores how digital innovation is revolutionizing wildlife conservation efforts, offering new strategies and solutions for safeguarding vulnerable species and ecosystems. One of the most significant contributions of digital innovation to wildlife conservation is the realm of monitoring and research. Remote sensing technologies such as Satellites and Drones provide invaluable data on habitat loss, landuse changes and wildlife populations. For instance, satellite imagery enables scientists to monitor deforestation in real time, identify illegal logging activities and track the movement of endangered species.
Furthermore, the advent of camera traps equipped with motion sensors and GPS technology allows researchers to capture images and videos of elusive wildlife species without human interference. These devices provide crucial insights into animal behaviour, population dynamics and habitat preferences, aiding conservationists in making informed decisions about conservation strategies and protected area management. In addition to data collection, digital innovation is revolutionizing data analysis through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. These technologies can process vast amounts of ecological data, identify patterns, and predict trends with unprecedented accuracy. By analyzing data on animal movements, habitat suitability and human-wildlife interactions, AI-powered models can inform conservation planning and prioritize conservation actions in areas most in need of protection.
Presently, AI-driven image recognition systems have been developed to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. These systems can automatically detect and identify wildlife products in online market places, enabling law enforcement agencies to intercept illegal shipments and apprehend traffickers. By leveraging AI, conservationists are gaining upper hand in fight against wildlife crime, disrupting illicit supply chains and reducing the demand for endangered species products. All this has immense significance in wildlife conservation initiatives.
Digital innovation is also enhancing efforts to engage youth and local communities and raise awareness about wildlife conservation. Mobile applications and online platforms like eBird, Merlin and iNaturalist enable citizens to report correct information on wildlife sightings, participate in citizen science projects and access educational resources about biodiversity conservation. These digital tools empower youth to play an active role in monitoring and protecting their local ecosystems, fostering a sense of ownership and stewardship over natural resources.With such initiatives our connections with each other and with nature are transforming. Around the world innovations and digital technologies are helping us to communicate, share ideas and conserve our planets wild animals and plants. This year for the United Nations World Wildlife Day lets togather explore our evolving connections with our planet’s extraordinary biodiversity.
In the last 20 years the world has witnessed major technological innovations and the amount and speed of circulating information and knowledge have reached unprecedented levels. In this digital era, technology holds the key to unlocking new frontiers in wildlife conservation. In India, digital innovation is transforming the way we safeguard our invaluable biodiversity. Drones are helping us to roam large areas to locate various key wildlife species. Advanced tracking systems, real-time data analytics and artificial intelligence driven solutions are empowering conservationists across India with unprecedented tools to help identify, monitor, track and ultimately preserve wildlife. Genetic and stock structure information can now be obtained using drones, which can also assess the body condition of individual animals. Stranding response teams in remote areas can share images and receive real-time advice from experts thousands of miles away.
Therefore, more than ever we are heavily dependent on technology in a digital world and we must seize opportunities to make use of digital technologies and services to support wildlife conservation, sustainable and legal wildlife trade and human-wildlife co-existence. From remote assessments, artificial intelligence in drones, to acoustic sensors and tracking tags, technology can be deployed at every step to monitor and conserve wildlife. In the UT’s of J&K and Ladakh, considering the immense importance of critically important wildlife species in these areas, many of the above mentioned technologies are already being used to monitor wildlife. The very recent wildlife survey at Kishtwar High Altitude National Park done by the Department of Wildlife Protection, Govt. of J&K with support from partner organizations using such technology have been able to locate and photograph Snow Leopard and many other wildlife species in the area. In other parts of India using Apps like “Bagheera” the speed of vehicles and other activities can be monitored during a jungle Safari. Similarly, “Garuda App”, developed by Wildlife Institute of India based on Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things, starts providing real time alerts on connecting it to any CCTV. Such technologies have immense significance in reducing Man-Animal Conflict.
Looking ahead, the future of wildlife conservation lies in harnessing full potential of digital innovation to develop innovative solutions to pressing conservation challenges. By embracing cutting edge technologies and fostering collaboration across disciplines, we can create a more sustainable future where humans and wildlife coexist in harmony.
(The author is a Senior Nature Conservation Scientist)