Elephant Stalkers, Lion Warriors and Species on the Move

At today’s special session “The New Edge of Conservation”, leading practitioners of ecological conservation Katy Payne, Healy Hamilton and PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu walked us through some of the latest technologies being employed in their respective fields.

Animal communication expert Katy Payne played clips of whale and elephant songs and discussed how their ways of communication could inform ours. Real-time monitoring of a group of elephants displayed complex social interactions. Payne played a video clip of a baby elephant that, left unattended by an inexperienced mother, was alternately kidnapped and rejected by other female elephants. The language of elephants, Payne noted, is emerging to be, like ours, heavily influenced by emotion.

PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct spoke on how her organization is helping to mobilize conservationists in protecting wildlife in central Africa. She explained how cattle-killing lions are being intentionally poisoned by cheap pesticides as humans increasingly encroach on their territory. Poisoning kills not only the lions, she said, but hyenas, vultures and other wildlife.

Lions have also traditionally been hunted by the nomadic Maasai people. Lion warriors, called “Moran”, used to kill a lion as a part of a cultural ritual into manhood, said Kahumbu. One Masai young man, Antony Kasanga, decided he wanted to protect lions rather than kill them, so he founded a group called the Lion Guardians. Kasanga began blogging with Wildlife Direct to tell the story of lions. By using the power of social media, Kasanga and other bloggers at Wildlife Direct are able to engage people all over the world in the importance of saving African wildlife. Wildlife Direct is now exploring new tools, such as partnering with PopTech alumn Ushahidi to provide real-time visualization of what’s happening on the ground, whether it be observing a rare species in its natural habitat or bearing witness to poaching. 

Biodiversity researcher Healy Hamilton wants us to also take a broader view of conservation. Rather than looking at individual parks and species, she says, we should look at how climate change is impacting the environment as a whole. Emphasizing the importance of an animal’s ability to roam to find food, mates and shelter, she traced the steps of a wolverine wearing a satellite radio collar. Researchers found that his territory included hundreds of square miles (including scaling the highest peak of Glacier National Park in the middle of winter).

Her campaign Freedom to Roam uses “connectivity conservation” to create landscapes that allow animals and humans to co-exist. Creating wildlife corridors (such as bridges and tunnels so that animals can cross roads) will connect otherwise isolated patches of habitat and allow species to roam, thus ensuring a thriving and diverse wildlife population. Diverse groups of people like hunters and treehuggers need to work together to protect wildlife or we’ll end up with a species-poor plant and animal population.  

All of these tools are providing new insight and data about how we as a species are impacting our environment. As Healy Hamilton observed, this is the first time we’ve been able to really measure change as it is happening around us. But, Paula Kahumbu reminded us, “technology won’t change the world; changing our hearts will.” 

Photo credit: Shashi Bellamkonda/@shashib

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