Stopping poachers in their tracks

by Gretchen
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Actual screenshot of wildlife rangers taken by wpsWatch camera
Actual screenshot of wildlife rangers taken by wpsWatch camera
  • Early this month, WPS were made aware by a particular game reserve that there might be poachers on their land.
  • Several of other WPS staff witnessed the first photo, which appeared to be the shoulder of a man.
  • The next image to come in was possibly his fingers.
  • WPS immediately called the head ranger who was mobilizing patrol operations for the night.
  • A few minutes later, images from a different camera revealed poachers.
  • 3 minutes later, another image came in, indicating the anti-poaching team was in pursuit.
  • The rangers initiated a tactical maneuver, which forced the poachers to drop their weapons and run.

I do a variety of work in wildlife conservation, and it's been an exciting few weeks in South Africa for a wildlife NGO called Wildlife Protection Solutions (WPS). This non-profit uses technology to augment traditional wildlife protection methods that helps boots-on-the-ground rangers who are actively protecting endangered species. 


WPS has created software that we call ‘wpsWatch,’ that allows multiple field feeds, such as camera traps, live unmanned aerial system video, etc., to be relayed live into a single-screen monitoring system. Threat assessment software filters through thousands of images to look for animal and human facial patterns--eliminating false positives (photos without anything in them).  When these patterns are detected, threat assessment software sends live alerts to the system, allowing real-time response to active threats.

WP surveillance app screenshot

Just last week, our system captured suspicious human activity on a game reserve in South Africa. Upon reporting this activity and its location to the local ranger team, anti-poaching forces were deployed within three minutes to address the situation. They were able to locate and disarm the suspected poachers, though unfortunately the poachers were able to escape. We found out later that three rhinos were in the area, and the reserve manager had this to say about wpsWatch: “the information we received from the [system] during the past week was invaluable and certainly saved rhino lives. When I left this morning, there were three rhino in the plains [on the reserve].  They could have been dead if we weren’t able to act [expeditiously] the past few days.”

Highlights of the work WPS is doing:

  • Created an application allowing our protection system to be viewed by rangers working in the field on their personal mobile devices.
  • Visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a partner NGO to see how our system might protect the bonobo, our closest cousins. The only place in the world that these rare great apes exist in the wild is in the DRC. 
  • Protected a herd of rhinos at our research camp in South Africa where we welcomed two baby rhino births with a third baby rhino on the way!
  • Deployed our anti-poaching system at two key game reserves in South Africa.
  • Equipped two South African game reserves with badly needed technology and anti-poaching equipment for rangers such as infrared cameras, hydration packs, and night vision goggles. You can help provide much needed equipment to rangers with a donation to WPS.
  • Built a research station in a biodiversity hotspot in Indonesia which will be our base of operations for protecting one of the most endangered animals in the world - the Sumatran rhino. With fewer than 200 individuals remaining, research and protection is critical to the species. Our systems will be used to protect the endangered Sumatran orangutan and tiger as well.
  • Created an animal intelligence app to provide stimulation and enrichment to captive orangutans through the use of a digital screen with games and videos. Installation is complete, and the exciting process of training the orangutans to use the app is currently in progress.

To learn more about the work that WPS is doing, or to donate to the Equip-a-Ranger program, please contact Gretchen. To read a more detailed account of the anti-poaching incident, click here.

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