- Since it was launched in 2017, the EarthRanger software has helped protected-area managers, law enforcement agencies and wildlife conservationists to collect, visualize and track data from the field on a single platform.
- In a bid to be nimbler, the software has now gone mobile with an app that builds on the functions of the web-based platform; it also helps rangers use their phones as tracking devices.
- The app has already been used to track elephants as well as rangers in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, as well as to plan the response to an oil spill off the coast of the Philippines.
From getting alerts about injured elephants to tracking ones that are straying too close to villages, the Mara Elephant Project has used the EarthRanger platform since 2019 to manage the protection of wildlife and humans in the Maasai Mara region in Kenya. The web-based platform has helped wildlife managers reduce human-elephant conflict and protect elephants from poaching and habitat destruction.
EarthRanger is now embracing the mobile era with an app — one that not only retains all the useful features, but also adds greater capability by harnessing the network of users to provide even greater functionality.
Since it was launched in 2017, the EarthRanger platform has been used by more than 350 conservation organizations in 60 countries. Developed by nonprofit Allen Institute for AI, the platform gives managers in control rooms a full picture of what’s happening in the field and enables them to respond to any perceived threats. It has also aided law enforcement agencies to track rangers using GPS-powered equipment.
In a map that’s updated in real time, protected area managers can observe a wide array of data, including, for the Mara Elephant Project, the movements of collared elephants and tagged ranger vehicles, and analyze the data to inform their decision making.
“We have set up virtual fence boundaries, and anytime an elephant crosses those, we get sent an alert,” Jake Wall, the director of research and conservation at the Mara Elephant Project, told Mongabay in a video interview. “Also, if an elephant slows down, we’ve got a speed analyzer that is triggered and we have found elephants that have been injured that way.”
In a bid to make EarthRanger nimbler, the Allen Institute for AI has rolled out EarthRanger Mobile, which builds on the functions of the web-based platform, while also helping rangers on the ground convert their phones into tracking devices. Using the app, people on the ground can also document the exact time and location coordinates of incidents they observe, such as poaching or an injured animal.
“We are hoping to put the power into the hands of the people on the field,” Dan O’Neill, the app’s lead software engineer, told Mongabay in a video interview. “The app’s intention is to solidify or bring together what multiple apps do today to collect data and contribute it into the EarthRanger platform.”
The Mara Elephant Project, which partnered with EarthRanger to develop the app, now uses it to track rangers in real time and get accurate information that allows it to coordinate patrols. “It takes a lot of the headache out of field data collection and figuring out coordinates,” Wall said.
The app also works offline, helping overcome a hurdle that exists in several locations where it’s widely used. “Where we operate, we don’t have great cellphone signals a lot of the time, but the app will continue to work and collect data,” Wall said. “When you’re back in the signal, it’ll send the data to the platform.”
EarthRanger Mobile has also been used by Blue Alliance, a Philippines-based NGO that works on protecting marine areas in the province of Oriental Mindoro. When a sinking tanker spilled 800,000 liters (211,000 gallons) of industrial oil into the water off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, the app played a pivotal role in helping the organization plan its response. Blue Alliance general manager Bonifacio Tobias said in a statement that EarthRanger Mobile was instrumental in “the real-time tracking and data collection of features such as geotagged images of oil slicks that helped us monitor and direct our cleanup efforts to affected areas.”
The app developers say they plan more new features and functionality for EarthRanger Mobile, including allowing rangers in the field to map routes while offline. “Now, you can route to one of the subjects you’re investigating or assisting in some human wildlife conflict,” O’Neill said. “That combined with an offline map will give you the ability to go anywhere in an offline setting, and track that.”
There are also plans to develop an enhanced predictive analysis feature for the app that will make use of the wealth of data collected over the years.
“We have historical data of where animals have been, what their tendencies are,” O’Neill said. “We can start doing predictive analytics on them, and estimate what they are going to do next.”
Banner image: EarthRanger Director Jes Lefcourt testing EarthRanger Mobile in northern Kenya. Image courtesy of Jane Wynyard.