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Using SMART technology to fight poaching

Poaching is an increasing threat, driving many species, like rhinos or elephants, close to extinction. Criminal networks have in many instances replaced individual, non-organized poachers, supplying the illegal trade of horn and tusk, worth billions of dollars. Increasingly, technologies such as digital communication, GPS and automatic weapons help to make them more effective than ever.

Photo by Elsabe van der Westhuizen
Rangers undergoing training in using the GPS units and filling out patrol forms.

7 Nov 2015 by Nils Elbert


To better respond to that new scale of aggression, Frankfurt Zoological Society has collaborated with other prominent conservation agencies in the development of a software tool and holistic approach to more effective law enforcement, with the acronym SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool).  SMART helps ranger patrols and conservation authorities to collect and analyse intelligence data from field patrols to improve their effectiveness in combating wildlife crime.

How does it work?

Ranger teams in the field are equipped with GPS or other devices with which they are able to collect spatial data on their movements or any observation, be it a poaching incident, or an interesting wildlife observation. Information can also be added to every recorded location, documenting what is happening in the field. The collected data can be aggregated and visualized by SMART, for example, showing hotspots of poaching activities as well as ranger movements on a map, thus supplying a strategic overview of a specific area to improve the daily field work.

Smarter field work

Since 2013, Hugo van der Westhuizen and his team have been using SMART in Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, one of the pilot sites. So far, three rangers have been trained in data input and basic analysis, with the oversight of a ranger seconded from scientific services that assist with data quality control and further analysis.  Field rangers have also been trained in the use of GPS units and data collection protocols.
Hugo van der Westhuizen, FZS Project Leader Gonarezhou Conservation Programme The system helps to deploy our manpower and resources more strategically. Hugo van der Westhuizen, FZS Project Leader Gonarezhou Conservation Programme

The SMART-reports quickly became part of regular planning meetings, Hugo van der Westhuizen explains: “The system helps to deploy our manpower and resources more strategically and focuses attention on areas with high poaching threats as well as areas that have not received ranger deployments for some time, which directly relates to increased anti-poaching success.”

A technology for all levels of wildlife authority

Because of it’s user-friendly approach staff of every level can make use of both the mapping and the analysis features, which is essential for successful implementation of any law enforcement monitoring system. Because a new technology alone won’t be able to end the poaching crisis. It’s the people using this technology who will make the difference.