CDP working with ZSL to protect wildlife

Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) has been working with ZSL (Zoological Society of London), the charity that also operates London Zoo, on an innovative conservation technology project to prevent wildlife poaching. Frontline conservationists and wildlife law enforcement teams working in the most extreme and remote landscapes could benefit from connected technology that detects emerging threats to wildlife and sends instantaneous alerts. Since the pandemic, animal and forest conservation has become more problematic, making this technology more relevant than ever.

In 2018, CDP was commissioned by the monitoring and technology unit at ZSL to develop the Instant Detect 2.0 system. Instant Detect 2.0 is a wildlife, environment and threat monitoring system designed specifically to meet conservationists’ and wildlife rangers’ demanding needs. The system consists of an innovative camera and sensor network with integrated satellite communications, designed to gather and transmit images and sensor data from the most remote, harsh landscapes in near real time. It aims to reduce poaching of animals such as elephants and rhino by detecting illegal human activity within protected areas and sending threat alerts to wildlife rangers within five minutes.

ZSL required an easily portable, battery operated system that could withstand being frozen, immersed in water, covered in dust and even buried underground. To date, conservationists have trialled the system in ecologically critical areas like the hot and dry landscape of Tsavo, Kenya and the wet, stormy conditions of the Pacific Ocean. Future deployments could include Antarctica, Sumatra and California.

Sam Seccombe of ZSL and Tom Brittain of CDP tell us how the cameras can help save rhinos, elephants and much more.

Tell us what the issue of poaching means to wildlife right now:

Sam: It’s a global crisis. According to Save The Rhino, in the last decade, more than 9,000 African rhinos have been lost to poaching, while the United Nations calculates that 100 African elephants are being slaughtered every day for the illegal ivory trade. When I was trialling the Instant Detect 2.0 system in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park last year, a landscape with one of the highest populations of rhino in Kenya, after two months of living in the park I had still not seen a rhino. When I mentioned this to an elderly local he told me that when he was a child, the valley was so filled with rhino it was difficult to drive through it, they were like herds of cows.

In the last decade, more than 9,000 African rhinos have been lost to poaching

Tom: We have developed a system that can not only monitor wildlife activity but also be configured to specifically detect human activity and alert rangers to the fact that poachers are active. The Instant Detect camera needs to be able to send images and information all over the world, withstand heat, sandstorms, flooding, freeze-thaw cycles and be easy to set up by non-technical rangers or conservationists. The system uses specialist sensors to identify humans, capture photographs and transmit the images back to the rangers’ HQ in near real time and also to anyone else in the world with the correct accreditation. In the case of anti-poaching, these pictures will not only allow the rangers to locate and intercept the poachers but also these can be used as evidence in prosecutions. In order to send information globally from even the remotest of installation sites, the in-field devices, including cameras, communicate with one another over a radio network before transmitting information over a global satellite constellation to a secure server on the Cloud. To develop such a multifaceted and complex system to this stage has required a highly collaborative effort between ZSL and CDP’s in-house experts in usability, design, mechanics, electronics and software.

The project is nearing fruition now and it would be great to think Instant Detect 2.0 will be available to conservationists as early as 2021. With rapidly declining populations of animals directly caused by poaching, such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins, time is of the essence.

We’re absolutely delighted with how the project has turned out and look forward to Instant Detect 2.0 becoming an affordable part of every conservationist’s toolkit in the field.

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