New WILDLABS.NET: Where Technology and Conservation Meet

Candice Gaukel Andrews December 22, 2015 0
According to WWF, wildlife crime is now the most urgent threat to three of the world’s most-loved, megafauna species: elephants, rhinos and tigers. ©Brad Josephs

According to WWF, wildlife crime is now the most urgent threat to three of the world’s most-loved, megafauna species: elephants, rhinos and tigers. ©Brad Josephs

It’s easy to find recent examples of how technology has helped wildlife conservation. New electronic tools for detecting and preventing animal and plant poaching, artificial appendages and limbs, and GPS tracking have all aided in keeping populations of threatened and endangered species safe and growing. But having an Internet space where conservationists—such as field-based biologists and resource managers—and technology developers could conveniently interact to share up-to-date discoveries and information was missing.

That is, until now.

Launched just a few weeks ago, WILDLABS.NET brings conservation practitioners from all over the world together with technology experts—typically working in urban hubs—so that they can confer and advise on how to use technological tools for conservation needs. In the past, often data gained and lessons learned from research and fieldwork were kept within individual organizations. But with WILDLABS.NET, users are able to post threads about how they applied specific technological tools to their conservation needs and discuss how those methods could be relevant for other situations all over the globe.

And one of the best aspects of WILDLABS.NET is that you and I can be part of it.

Linking conservationists with software engineers

Among the best-known animals to benefit from technology is Beauty the bald eagle. She lost the upper portion of her beak after a hunter shot it off. She was later fitted with a nylon-composite replacement. ©Young Kwak/AP

Among the best-known animals to benefit from technology is Beauty, the bald eagle. She lost the upper portion of her beak after a hunter shot it off. She was later fitted with a nylon-composite replacement. ©Young Kwak/AP

United for Wildlife—an alliance between seven of the world’s largest conservation organizations, including World Wildlife Fund and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry—created WILDLABS.NET with seed support from Google.org and ARM, a cutting-edge, digital products designer.

Already, the usefulness of WILDLABS.NET is apparent. One of the most arduous challenges wildlife workers and conservationists face today is stopping the poaching epidemic. What’s driving the rampant poaching activity is the illegal wildlife trade—estimated to be worth at least $10 billion per year. Wildlife populations—including those of elephants, rhinos and tigers—are being wiped out, adding loss to national and regional economies. WILDLABS.NET provides a means to quickly connect researchers in remote parts of Africa, for example, directly to software engineers in California through searchable, individual contact listings and information-sharing via the Internet.

Connecting you and me to environmental issues

This morning, I checked out the WILDLABS.NET website. Under “What’s New,” I read a thought piece about traceability (knowing where products come from and how they are made) contributed by Daniel Brizuela of WWF and Phoebe Racine. It’s a topic I have written about before. In the piece, the authors state that identifying and tracking products is currently often done through a paper-trail chain of custody. But that method has several shortcomings, first of which is that documentation can easily be falsified. How can we, they ask, collect data, develop tools and present information that facilitates company and consumer understanding of the environmental and social impacts of traceability across the supply chain?

In another article, titled “Gaming for Good: Minecraft and Quiz Up,” author Peter Jacobs discusses how United for Wildlife is using popular video games to engage young people in conservation. Can games have real-world impacts on issues such as the illegal wildlife trade? Do you have ideas for how gaming could help conservation issues? If you do, you can share your knowledge in WILDLAB.NET’s Gaming for Conservation Group.

To access articles such as these, all you have to do is go to www.wildlabs.net. You can also connect with WILDLABS.NET on Twitter. In order to take your involvement up a notch by being able to contribute to such discussions and join communities—especially if you are involved with the technology or conservation fields—register as a member.

On whatever level you choose to connect with WILDLABS, I know you’ll find engaging content that poses some of the big questions that we all need to think about.

What’s really cool is that together, we just may also be able to find some answers.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

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