Developing SMART Technology to Defend Wildlife
The North Carolina Zoo is a founding member of the SMART Partnership. Developed together with conservation leaders around the world, SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is a free open-source software package that empowers law enforcement officials in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. It achieves this by enabling rangers to more easily collect information on threats to wildlife, which in turn allows protected area managers to make informed decisions about how best to protect wildlife. By also training conservation staff on the ground in how to use SMART technology, the NC Zoo plays a significant role in protecting threatened wildlife and the natural areas on which they depend.
The Front Lines of Wildlife Protection
Wildlife poaching is reaching epidemic proportions in some parts of the world. Driven by a lucrative black market for wildlife products and expanding human populations, illegal hunting threatens iconic species like rhinos, elephants, big cats, and gorillas. Rangers and other law enforcement staff are the critical first line of defense against illegal animal killing, but in the developing world they are often under-trained and poorly equipped, especially when confronting increasingly sophisticated poaching networks.
A New Approach to Anti-Poaching
In partnership with some of the world’s largest conservation organizations, the North Carolina Zoo has played a leading role in developing a state of the art tool to support rangers on the ground. SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is a software package that puts cutting edge technology in the hands of rangers and other law enforcement staff. Using the mapping and analysis tools incorporated into SMART, conservation agencies are now better equipped to understand patterns of wildlife movements and illegal human activities. Such an understanding allows national parks and other protected areas to be more strategic in their conservation work by allowing them to better plan, evaluate, and implement their activities. The technology that underlies SMART thereby gives rangers the advantage they need to combat poaching in an effective and decisive manner.
To stay on top of increasingly sophisticated criminal syndicates, the SMART system is continually being improved and expanded. For example, the most recent SMART version included SMART Connect - a online application that enables users to leverage real-time information sharing in the field, and to integrate with a wide variety of other web-based platforms. A new plug-in was also rolled out in 2018, which allows conservation area managers to track the activities and associates of individual offenders (i.e. poachers). The North Carolina Zoo’s Rich Bergl (Director of Conservation, Education, and Science) was elected Chair of the SMART Steering Committee for 2018-2019, so the Zoo will be leading the partnership’s efforts to meet the demands of an increasingly connected global conservation community.
A Global Impact
Thanks to freely-available training materials and online support, SMART is fast becoming the global standard for monitoring used by protected area law enforcement. There are currently over 800 sites in more than 60 countries using SMART to better manage national parks and other reserves. Fifteen countries have already adopted SMART as their official monitoring system for their protected area networks; this includes countries such as Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe where the North Carolina Zoo is active in SMART capacity building, but also countries further afield such as Nepal, Columbia, and the Philippines. The software is also available in over ten different languages and globally thousands of people have been trained in its use. Involvement with this project is just one example of how the NC Zoo is helping to revolutionize conservation practices and build capacity for people involved with wildlife conservation all around the world.
Partners: Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), Global Wildlife Conservation, North Carolina Zoo, Panthera, Peace Parks Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Wildlife Protection Solutions, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Zoological Society of London (ZSL)