Monday, August 18, 2014

SMART-A Wildlife Conservation Tool

From Stokes et al., 2010 paper
SMART, the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, is a conservation software that allows government organizations and other agencies to monitor and measure the effectiveness of patrols in protected areas. Data is input into the software and maps of patrol areas can be created along with maps showing where wildlife is being hunted or logging is occurring.

The creators of SMART are fully aware of the need to quickly assess and monitor areas, rather than rely on stale data. This is important because, of course, the world is not static; species ranging, human land use, ecologies, and so forth are always changing. Up-to-date data can be used by agencies to make key decisions about how to change patrols/conservation efforts. Management can then communicate quickly with patrols/those enforcing the law to implement timely adjustments.  Developed by conservationists to aid those on the "front-line," SMART is made so that managers can see what their current strategies are doing in real time and change them if needed. There's no time lag. No maps showing what species distribution looked like two years ago when new patrols or initiatives have been put in place. Managers can see where hunting is occurring now and then quickly arrange for new patrols in those areas. SMART is a useful tool because it detects these changes, so managers can see how implementing a new patrol affects species abundance for example.

The software also measures which conservation strategies are most effective. SMART has training tools and best practices developed by experts and people who use the software.

It's not marketed as for every one when in reality only those Westerners with a PhD can understand how to use the software. The creators of SMART worked to ensure their software would be put into actual use by field assistants, patrols, station managers, and so forth whether or not they have an advanced degree (or any degree at all for that matter). SMART is free and designed to be easy to use. It's available in local languages, and there's an online forum where users can post questions and help each other. Training manuals with modules designed to take users step-by-step through tasks such as, "Setting up a Conservation Area" and "Analysis: Queries and Summaries" were uploaded in May 2014.

Panthera tigris
The software has been used to monitor great apes and elephants in the Republic of Congo, tigers in multiple countries in Asia, and rhinos in Kenya.

I learned about this great tool in a talk titled, "Getting Smart About Great Ape Anti-Poaching Efforts by EJ Stokes of the Wildlife Conservation Society" by E. J. Stokes. I wanted to post about SMART for a couple of reasons: 1) it can and actually is being used by scientists and non-scientists; 2) it provides real-time data; 3) best practices are included with the program; and 4) it allows organizations to see what's working and what isn't. Using SMART, data and people can come together to effectively protect areas. It's just plain SMART! (Sorry, I had to go there.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The ApeApp

I've had the privilege of attending talks at the International Primatological Society's Congress in Hanoi, Vietnam this week, and one of the sessions I made sure to attend was on the applications of technology to primatology and conservation.

One of the particularly interesting presentations was, "The ApeApp and Tablet Advocacy: How Best to Inspire Conservation in Mobile Technology" by L. Darby, D. Cress, and J. Refisch. With so many people using mobile devices (more people have access to a mobile device than a working toilet, I learned during the talk), it's no surprise that conservation has spread to our smart phones.

The ApeApp was created by the Great Ape Survival Partnership or GRASP to teach people about the Great Apes (Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans, and Gorillas) and to allow people to donate through their mobile phones to conservation causes. It's available for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices for free and was a finalist for the Appy Awards. The ApeApp creates a link between the public and 95 partners of GRASP, ranging from research institutions to conservation agencies to UN agencies. You can donate to the Diane Fossey Gorilla Foundation, the African Wildlife Foundation, and others. Except for the PayPal fee, all of your money goes towards the cause you chose. I think it's great that users can choose to donate say to habitat protection with the Orangutan Conservancy or Congo Shipping project with the African Wildlife Foundation.

You can also learn about these projects you donate to. For example, the Congo Shipping Project provides local communities with a boat to transport crops to cities so that they can sell them, whereas before this project, many people could not sell their crops and thus resorted to hunting apes. The project also trains communities in sustainable farming.

The ApeApp also teaches users about these apes, providing information on the average size and weight of each ape, species habitat, their population numbers and conservation status, subspecies, sleep patterns, vocalizations, and, my favorite, food. There's plenty to learn and it's easy to use.

I think this is a great example of how technology and conservation and mesh well together. Next time you're on your phone, instead of playing games or checking social networking sites, why not spend some time learning about our closest living relatives? Or better yet, donate to a cause you learned about on the ApeApp through the ApeApp itself.

Fun fact: Guess how many hours Americans spend on some sort of technology (computers, radio, tv, mobile phones, etc)?

Answer: 11 hours!