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EarthRanger Announces Inaugural Conservation Tech Award Recipients

2 Nov 2021
Giraffe Conservation Foundation and Lion Guardians are Harnessing the Power of Technology to Protect Endangered Species and Promote Human-Wildlife Coexistence
A man in maasai garb uses a GPS device to track wildlife
A guardian uses a GPS. Photo courtesy Philip J. Briggs via Lion Guardians.

Today, EarthRanger announced Giraffe Conservation Foundation and Lion Guardians as the recipients of the inaugural Conservation Tech Award, which was developed to catalyze innovation and development in conservation solutions. The award recognizes organizations using technology to protect endangered species, monitor ecological changes and animal behavior, and promote peaceful human-wildlife coexistence.

“Lion Guardians and Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s work embodies what we are looking to recognize and encourage through this grant,” said Jes Lefcourt, Director of EarthRanger. “They are both approaching big, continent-wide challenges that don’t have simple solutions, and they are applying a host of technologies in creative ways, ranging from crowdsourced data collection to advanced AI models for identifying individual animals. We hope that the grant aids in their work and that others will be inspired to join the effort to empower conservation through technology.”

Giraffe Conservation Foundation

As an EarthRanger user, Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) has used machine learning, rapid geospatial data management and visualization to understand giraffes in unprecedented ways and advocate for their protection. For example, GCF created the Twiga Tracker initiative, the largest GPS satellite tracking study ever conducted on giraffes. With help from its partners, GCF has successfully collared more than 250 individual giraffes in 12 countries with solar-powered tracking devices to follow their migration patterns, observe their interactions with their environments, and aid in anti-poaching efforts.

GCF is also conducting repeated surveys of giraffe populations using pattern recognition and machine learning to compile a database of all known individual giraffes in key conservation landscapes, in addition to using genetics to reclassify giraffe taxonomy from one to four distinct species. GCF’s hope is to inspire a passion to protect these species, who play a vital role in maintaining balance in ecosystems - yet have dropped by almost 30 percent in the last 3 decades due to habitat loss, human population growth, disease and poaching.

Lion Guardians

Lion Guardians (LG) has a unique community-centric approach to conservation, leveraging and prioritizing the experience and perspectives of local communities to inform their work to protect lions. LG uses a combination of tracking devices on lions, and GPS readings observed by community members (“Guardians”) to help build risk maps for herders, to track the locations of human-wildlife conflict incidents and to conduct patrols who guard bomas (livestock enclosure) and known hot-spots via non-harmful deterrents.

LG blends community expertise with the use of artificial intelligence to create a new model for tackling lion conservation challenges - specifically the LINC (Lion Identification Network of Collaborators) program, a system which helps identify and monitor individual lions and their behaviors via their whisker patterns and imaging. LINC allows different conservationist researchers to input their data for tracking and sharing, enhancing the shared mission of protecting these endangered species.

A pair of giraffes walking amongst a herb of zebra in Laikipia County, Kenya
Giraffe seen in Laikipia County, Kenya. Photo by Michael Brown with Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

“Giraffe Conservation Foundation and Lion Guardians are putting often-hyped technology to the test in real-world rugged field environments, pairing technology with local community knowledge, and helping researchers do less data-wrangling and more science,” said Tanya Birch, program manager at Google Earth Outreach and a member of the selection committee . “With strong track records showing impact at conserving giraffe and African lion species, the Conservation Tech Award can be a launching pad for novel applications of tech."

The Conservation Tech Award consists of two $15,000 prizes. Applications were evaluated based on an assessment of innovativeness, potential for scalability, clarity of success metrics, clarity of next steps, and likelihood of having impact. This year, the applicant pool included nearly 100 applications from organizations on 6 continents and 32 countries, all involved in vital conservation efforts around the world. From protecting endangered giraffe species and lions in Africa, to researching marine ecosystems in Malaysia, to preserving wildlife in Australia, the Conservation Tech Award applicants have used technology to adapt to new realities and develop unique, innovative solutions for environmental protection and management.

The Conservation Tech Award also recognizes honorable mentions whose work spans critical conservation efforts across the world.

  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy -- As Australia’s largest private owner and manager of land for conservation, Australian Wildlife Conservancy is developing and implementing a new model for conservation to protect endangered wildlife across more than 25,000 square miles.
  • Borneo Nature Foundation -- The wildlife and biodiversity conservation and research organization protects and safeguards tropical rainforest and the environment in Borneo.
  • Future Generations University -- With a mission to promote research, learning, and action for inclusive and sustainable community change worldwide, Future Generations University delivers and teaches local impact at global scale.
  • Game Rangers International -- Working in close partnership with Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Game Rangers International empowers rangers and local communities to conserve nature.
  • Marine Research Foundation -- Based in Sabah, Malaysia, the Marine Research Foundation is working to improve our understanding of marine ecosystems and their associated diverse species across Southeast Asia and other Indo-Pacific sites.
  • Osa Conservation -- Dedicated to protecting the globally significant terrestrial and marine biological diversity of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, Osa Conservation is implementing ecosystem stewardship, enhancing scientific understanding, providing education and training and creating sustainable economic opportunities.
  • Reef Environmental Education Foundation -- The international organization protects biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education and partnerships with the scientific community.
  • Rouxcel Technology (Pty) Ltd -- The conservation company specializes in the development of unique and innovative technology to enable and assist both the protection of wild spaces and the prevention of poaching of endangered species.
  • RSPB -- As the United Kingdom’s largest conservation charity, RSPB is using research, partnerships, landscape-scale conservation and policy work to change the fate of nature.
  • Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie --The organization is working for the protection of wild birds of Tahiti and her islands as well as for the preservation of their habitats.
  • VulPro -- With a mission to protect African vultures through collaboration and innovation, VulPro is using rehabilitation, captive breeding for population supplementation, research and education to help save Africa’s wild vulture populations.
  • Wildlife ACT Fund Trust -- Through strategic partnerships, sustainable funding models and developing technology, Wildlife ACT Fund Trust is helping to save Africa’s endangered wildlife through informed and impact-driven projects.

Finalists and honorable mentions were determined by a selection committee composed of Allen Institute for AI conservation leaders and representatives from ConservationX Labs, Google, Grumeti Fund, Microsoft, Mara Elephant Project, WCS, and WILDLABS.

The Conservation Tech Award’s sizable and diverse applicant pool reflects the growing need for efficient and effective conservation measures. In the past 50 years, two-thirds of the world’s wildlife and biodiversity has been lost – so continued investment and support for solutions, such as the Conservation Tech Award, are intended to help grantees prevent further habitat loss and protect endangered species.

Access to conservation technology continues to change the face of conservation. It has been shown to aid efforts even through the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing conservationists to do more with less and continue their work amidst significant challenges such as decreased budgets and increased illegal activity such as trade and poaching. As technology’s role as a force for good increases, EarthRanger and organizations across the globe are continuously looking for ways to provide and support tech-based solutions that empower conservationists and their communities.