It's that time of year again, endangered species day. A day when countless people and organizations involved wildlife conservation promote, publicize, tweet, and otherwise try to draw attention to their favorite endangered animals. The internet is awash with photos of ferrets, bears, wolves, owls, elephants, tigers, and maps. Wait, maps? What do maps have to do with wildlife conservation?
I get asked that question a lot in my line of work. People seem to have an antiquated notion of wildlife researchers roaming vast savannahs and thick jungles on foot in search of their subjects. Yes, its true that wildlife research began with people spending countless hours in the field armed with the most modern tools available to them at the time- including pencils, paper, binoculars, large brimmed hats, and khaki cargo pants. But the times they are a changin.
Conservationists today have a wide variety of high tech tools to help them identify and understand the issues facing endangered species today from the comfort of their air conditioned offices. We can monitor the condition of forests and deserts from space using satellite technology. Remotely sensed imagery, such as that we see on Google Earth, reveals habitat conditions on the ground instantly. GPS collars deployed on wild animals collect thousands of scientifically valuable wildlife locations everyday, and location data an be gathered and shared by virtually anyone with a handheld mobile device. The cloud is a massive repository of field data, basemaps, and imagery used to map wildlife and their habitats worldwide. And our ability to share maps with people all over the world in the click of a button is unparalleled. The video below illustrates how the Jane Goodall Institute is using a suite of mapping tools and software to monitor and conserve Chimps in Gombe.
We are using cutting edge technology to monitor and conserve species across the globe, and more tools are being developed every day. Let's hope that they can help us learn to better manage our resources and bring lots of endangered species back from the brink of extinction.