Less than 1% of criminals are caught in the act of a crime. Monitoring remote and high-crime areas provides valuable information for investigations. Much as CCTV cameras protect cities, airports and shopping malls, Global Park Defense monitors all roads, trails and rivers known for illegal activities. By providing real-time alerts about illegal intruders, rangers can rapidly respond and make arrests. Key tools include: 

Cellular Trail Cameras, based on low-cost consumer technologies, use satellite, cellular or radio connections to send real-time surveillance photos of wildlife and illegal trespassers from around the park to ranger patrols. These transmissions include location, heading, and facial images for later prosecution.

Cellular trailcams are deployed at strategic locations on roads, trails and rivers to provide real-time surveillance of all illegal activities, allowing rapid targeting for ranger interdictions. Cameras can be put in plain view or hidden, but they should always be set in areas of interest. For example, game trails, ridges and waterways are always important, as they are used by poachers, miners and loggers frequently. 

Choke points (where multiple trailheads meet) and water crossings are also important locations for both wildlife and illegal human activities. A key component of Global Park Defense, Global Conservation has deployed hundreds of cellular trailcams in parks around the world. They can be placed in remote areas to determine if patrols are needed, and rotated to various locations or set up as a permanent network.

The real-time surveillance allowed by cellular trailcams is a critically important technological tool for Global Park Defense, but it must be paired with rapid response to alerts. If more than an hour passes, it can be difficult or impossible to intercept illegal activity without sniffer dogs or pro trackers to locate the criminals.

Virtual Fences can be made up of camera traps, motion sensors, alarms, thermal technology or vibration detectors. We typically use camera traps and/or ultrawave sensors, which send out a microwave beam that triggers an alarm when the beam is broken. 

In Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, we are in the process of setting up two virtual fences. The majority of poachers in Mana enter by crossing the river, which is also the border with Zambia. A fair number of poachers also attempt to enter via the southern boundary of the park, especially as patrols increase on the river.

Consequently, we will deploy 20 to 40 camera traps on said southern boundary. These motionsensing, night-vision cameras will provide realtime alerts to the Akashinga Rangers, who are prepared for immediate interception. 

On the river boundary we will also set 20 to 40 camera traps, but in addition we will deploy two Senstar ultrawave sensors. The Senstar units will detect motion and send alerts to the cameras, which will in turn alert rangers in real time. Just two units will detect motion along 400 meters of riverbank at key entry points.

Thermal imaging scopes and cameras provide long-range surveillance across large land areas and marine protected areas from mobile observation posts. Thermal scopes and cameras can be of great benefit in dense foliage, large bodies of water, or any low- to no-light situation.

Thermal cameras read heat signatures, sensing the difference between ambient and body temperature. This produces a color-coded heat map, allowing for law enforcement to differentiate between animals and criminals in pitch-black lighting conditions and across large bodies of water.

More powerful thermal scopes can detect heat signatures up to two kilometers away. Thermal scopes and binoculars can be used at observation posts, on patrol, and during raids. They help rangers to differentiate targets in zero-light conditions in real time, much like the cameras. Rangers can spot potential danger before it is too late, greatly increasing safety.

Night vision works differently than thermal imaging. Where thermal imaging uses heat to detect animals, objects, and people in zero light, producing a simple heat map, night vision greatly amplifies existing light to create a clear image with a green tint. There must be a minimal amount of light present to effectively use night vision, but it provides a true image as opposed to just a heat signature.

Night vision works best in open expanses, where at least some moonlight is present. The benefit of a clear sight picture and much lower price point make them more common and numerous than thermal cameras and scopes. You might see an entire patrol equipped with night vision whereas you will not see more than a couple FLIR thermal imaging devices within one patrol unit.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs/drones) run aerial reconnaissance at a distance up to 40 kilometers, night and day, to identify illegal logging and poaching camps. Drones are an immense benefit for both mapping and for law enforcement. Although the noise they create makes them a poor option for tracking poachers, they can greatly increase safety by providing reconnaissance for law enforcement raids to prevent ambush.

They can also help managers to map critical data like deforestation and illegal camp locations. Drones are best used in open expanses rather than dense foliage, where maneuverability and visibility can be a challenge. 

Satellite imagery is critical for carbon monitoring. The planet has lost over 40% of our tropical forests over the past twenty years. That loss adds up to 342 million hectares – six times the size of Kenya, or five times the size of Texas. Experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in under 40 years.

Global Conservation’s Carbon for Forests is the first forest-based carbon offset program which directly funds the protection and restoration of national parks. 

Satellite imagery analysis also provides daily updates on fires, forest clearing, illegal logging and mining camps, new road construction, and major changes to the park ecosystem so that patrol teams can be immediately alerted. 

Global Conservation uses satellite monitoring to protect forests and biodiversity in the Americas, Asia and Africa. With GLAD deforestation alerts on Global Forest Watch, park authorities can detect illegal gold mining and logging in protected areas within days. By getting timely and precise information into the hands of government authorities on the ground, they can take action within 24-48 hours of receiving an alert.

Global Information Systems (GIS), like ESRI ArcGIS, are instrumental for helping conservation managers to visualize data and understand patterns. GIS software helps managers gather environmental data into one place and to display it on a detailed map in combination with other data sets. For example, a manager could create a map that shows elephant movements derived from GPS collar data, and overlay it onto a map of environmental variables, like the location of water sources. EarthRanger (see below), takes this a step further, incorporating GIS data streams as well as criminal activity records, species counts, etc.

EarthRanger is a Vulcan Domain Awareness System (DAS), a software platform that collects information on activity in protected areas. This platform combines data from animal collars, SMART systems, trailcams, drones, satellite imagery, and other sources into a single, interactive digital map.

Together, the software is able to collect information about the animals being protected, the rangers protecting them, and potential threats, and integrate it into a real-time visualized operational platform. Managers can use this software to quickly analyze and proactively interdict illegal activity. It is also a very useful investigative tool and builds a database of criminals and criminal activity that can be referenced at any time.

EarthRanger is designed for those interested in security, human-wildlife conflict, and ecological monitoring in forest, savanna, jungle, or plains landscapes. Specifically, EarthRanger can be used by managers monitoring activity in protected areas, as well as governments interested in ranger activity, wildlife movement, and area perimeter integrity.