Monday, June 25, 2007

The Trees Have Eyes

Last year poachers are estimated to have killed more than 23,000 African elephants. According to a study by the University of Washington, that is about one in 17 of the continent's total.
Yikes! Too bad you can't send all the poachers down to South Africa, where populations are getting out of hand.

So, what do you do instead? How about a little technological magic.
NouabalĂ©-Ndoki's hard-pressed rangers are, however, about to get some high-tech help in the form of TrailGuard, a system of small and easily hidden electronic detection and communication devices. They will soon begin burying radio-transmitting metal detectors alongside elephant trails leading into the park. Authorised hikers through the park will be given transponders that tell the detectors who they are, as with the “identification friend-or-foe” systems on military aircraft. But when poachers carrying rifles or machetes traipse by a detector, it will send a radio signal to a treetop antenna. Seconds later the rangers will receive the intruder's co-ordinates on their satellite phones. They will then be able to respond precisely, rather than slogging around on fruitless and demoralising patrols on the off-chance of catching a poacher up to no good.

TrailGuard is the brainchild of Steve Gulick, an electrical engineer turned biologist who recently left the State University of New York (SUNY) to set up a not-for-profit organisation called Wildland Security, to promote his idea. Besides catching more (or, indeed, any) poachers, he hopes his invention will also prove to be an example of an idea from another one-time electrical engineer, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke's Third Law, as it is known to fans of his science-fiction writing, is that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Many people in Congo do believe in magic and Mr Gulick does not propose to disabuse them of the notion. Local people will receive no explanation for the rangers' new powers. That, Mr Gulick hopes, will discourage potential poachers from turning thought into deed.

Nor are metal detectors the only magic to be deployed. Small fire detectors hidden in trees should add to the anti-poaching unit's reputation for clairvoyance. Poachers frequently smoke meat from their kills to preserve it during transport to market. Like the metal detectors, the fire detectors will alert the rangers by satellite phone, allowing them to swoop as from nowhere.
Metal and fire detectors in the middle of the jungle. Excellent.

via The Economist


Audacious Epigone said...

I'd love to donate to his non-profit. Did you see a link in anything you were reading up on for the post?

Fat Knowledge said...

Steve Gulick is the creator, and he has a website: Wildland Security. There is contact information on the site, and I am sure he would love to tell you how you can donate to the cause.

I also came across this Technology Review article on TrailGuard.

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