It was December 2012 in Washington, DC, where the team at the World Wildlife Fund heard some exciting news. Google.org had just granted the NGO $5M to help stop poaching using technology . While conserving the natural world and technology seem like an odd pair, there was a lot of hope that the data and connectivity could not only help prevent poaching, but help WWF optimize their processes, improve their visibility into wildlife, and provide innovative solutions to reduce illegal trade and human wildlife conflict.
World Wildlife Fund
Founded in 1961, WWF had a mission to “stop the degeneration of the planet’s natural environment and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature”. Today, they are the world’s largest conservation organization, with over 5 million supporters worldwide, putting over $240M of funds to work on key projects .
Projects range from public campaigns to influence decision makers to make better policy decisions, to corporate partnerships aimed at better sourcing, to on the ground endeavors that work with local communities to preserve wildlife.
Conservation in a Digital Age
Like how traditional businesses are using digitization to collect data, monitor, optimize processes, and provide real time feedback, WWF can and has leveraged these principles and applied them to conservation in the following ways:
1) Tracking and quantification of populations of species
A major way to both understand the magnitude of species and ecosystem endangerment and educate key decision makers, is to have accurate data. In the digital age, this can be done via a few methods :
- Sensors, cameras, and drones to watch and use image recognition to automatically identify and count specific species
- Improved data mining technologies that can use existing and new global data sets to draw more accurate estimations and forecasts for wildlife migrations and populations
- Improved satellite imaging and data to monitor extremely remote forests or oceans where local monitoring cannot occur
2) Monitoring of poachers and illegal goods
One of the most active areas of WWF is to combat illegal poaching and selling of endangered animals. In recent years, poaching has increased for many vulnerable species as demand has increased with developing countries gaining wealth.
WWF has used technologies to combat poaching including remote thermal cameras than can identify humans in protected regions and alert authorities . Separately, WWF helps to improve databases of animal products such as fish to help traceability and enforcement of legal practices .
3) Real time alerts to farmers and villagers
Human wildlife conflict is often a cause for needless wildlife destruction or harm. For example, if a herd of elephants is actively destroying crops, farmers may act to protect their livelihood.
WWF is using remote acoustic monitoring to detect elephants from afar. The monitoring devices can tell if rumbles are caused by elephants based on pattern recognition and can be constantly refined via machine learning. When the monitors are activated, an instant message can be sent to rangers to intervene before the elephants get too close to human populations. 
4) Sharing and crowd sourcing conservation ideas
Using online databases and websites, data, research and lessons learnt from various conservation field tests can be shared globally, rather than kept in their own organizations. With no profits at stake, it is in everybody’s best interest to share ideas and solutions, and work collaboratively to solve problems.
In November 2015, WWF in partnership with Google.org and ARM, launched WILDLABS.NET, a platform that can connect thought leaders and technologists in this space to share and create technology-based solutions to help conservation efforts .
WWF’s efforts so far at using digitization have been commendable with a full focus on how technology today can preserve nature for tomorrow. Looking forwards, it would be harder to push forwards with technology innovation given the funding constraints of an NGO. It would be wiser to focus efforts on both using naturally emerging technologies and crowd sourcing solutions. Based on technology waves of today, this may include new solutions with improved drones, self-driving vehicles, big data driven forecasting, and improved satellite technology.
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 – “Wildlife Crimes Technology Project”, WWF Website, http://www.worldwildlife.org/projects/wildlife-crime-technology-project
 – WWF Website (Budget and Overview)
 – “WWF Tech Integration Helps Namibia Tackle Wildlife Crime”, WWF Website, http://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/wwf-tech-integration-helps-namibia-tackle-wildlife-crime
 – “Traceability Principles for Wild-Caught Fish Products”, WWF Report, http://assets.worldwildlife.org/publications/796/files/original/WWF_Traceability_Principles_for_Wild-Caugh_Fish_April_2015.pdf?1430410438
 – “Establishing the Fundamentals for an Elephant Early Warning and Monitoring System”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4558827/
 – “How mobile crowdsourcing protects wildlife and habitats”, Cisco Newsroom, https://newsroom.cisco.com/feature-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1757845