Hobby Drones, Repurposed as Peacekeepers, Save Elephants and Human Livelihoods

Nov 18, 2016

Findings show off-the-shelf drones can be used to guard crops and keep elephants safe along the borders of Tanzanian parks


A study out this week finds that low-cost drones helps protect elephants by preventing human-elephant conflict in farmland near Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks in Tanzania. The project, designed by RESOLVE’s Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions program, in partnership with Tanzanian Wildlife officials and the Mara Elephant Project, works by using the drones to safely shepherd elephants away from farms and communities—where conflict can cause more elephant deaths than poaching.

A mother and her calf in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Lori Price

From April through July, elephants wander out of parks across Tanzania to gorge on maize (corn), watermelon, and sorghum that dot subsistence farm plots. A wild herd can wipe out a maize plot in a single night and leave farmers struggling to feed their families for the rest of the year. Farmers and rangers have to sneak within range of the elephants to throw stones and bang drums to drive them off, or, worse, hurl chili-laced condoms with firecrackers in a futile and often dangerous effort. Angry villagers can also retaliate by provisioning the fields with poisoned fruit or turning a blind eye to poaching gangs targeting the elephants for ivory.

Elephants are not entirely to blame; people are moving into their homelands and traditional movement corridors, planting crops and competing with wildlife for space, water, and food. In certain regions of Africa and across much of the range of the Asiatic elephant, this conflict presents a greater risk to elephants than poaching and has become a high priority for wildlife managers. Now, conservationists may have found an unexpected solution that works in the African bush. Beginning in late 2014, researchers from Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions, the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), and the Mara Elephant Project, found that quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, a.k.a. drones) make elephants flee, possibly an instinctual reaction to the sound of the propellers, which imitate a swarm of bees. This discovery presented a possible new tool to keep elephants out of high-risk areas, but the technique needed more testing to be proclaimed safe for wildlife and people.

Elephants are shepherded by a drone in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Teddy Kinyanjui

In a paper released in the journal Oryx this week, the research team reported on 51 field trials in farmland bordering Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks. The trials show that rangers using UAVs have been able to consistently move wild elephants out of crops during the day and night. Results from the flights suggest that the UAVs—which currently cost $800 fully equipped—can aid wildlife managers who regularly respond to human-elephant conflict (HEC) in community areas and croplands.

“We’ve stressed the importance of data collection throughout this project. There is sometimes a tendency to overstate the power of new technologies, and we wanted to fairly assess the utility of the drones for moving elephants out of crops and other areas. The results are very positive and show that UAVs can be an effective, flexible way for wildlife managers to deal with human-elephant conflict,” said lead author Nathan Hahn, from Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions.

Trained ranger teams stationed along the border of these parks have now made over 120 flights in response to calls about elephants on community and farming lands.

“The greater interaction distance the UAVs provide lends a much-needed safety buffer for our rangers, the farmers, and the elephants. Here is a useful piece of technology we didn’t have in our tool kit one year ago” explained Angela Mwakatobe, head of research management at TAWIRI and co-author on the study.

Rangers on patrol in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Teddy Kinyanjui

While some biologists warn that elephants may become habituated to the sound of drones and no longer move from crop fields, rangers have not yet noticed signs of this, even among habitual raiders who have “met” the drones multiple times. Results of this work suggest that small drones offer a new way to reduce negative interactions between people and elephants. The UAVs have also revealed unintended applications. In one instance, rangers used a UAV to move a wounded bull out of dense bush into the open so that a veterinary team could remove a poisoned arrow lodged in his leg.

Loving elephants is easy. Living next to them in harmony requires a little creative engineering to negotiate a peace treaty. “It’s good that we can help the communities,” observed ranger Kateto Ollekashe. “When we can help farmers move the elephants away, we can build relationships and get them on our side. That’s also how we can help stop poaching.”

In the end, scientists and wildlife managers agree that this conflict will not be solved until larger protected areas and safe corridors are established for elephant dispersal; thus, it will not be solved overnight. But at least now there is some hope for peaceful coexistence between farmers and elephants, brokered by a creative use of technology and early adoption by the Tanzanian government.

The graduating class from RESOLVE’s drone training workshop in Serengeti National Park, February 2016. Photo by Nathan Hahn

About Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions

RESOLVE’s Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions (BWS) program targets two of the greatest conservation crises of our time: the approaching extinction of endangered wildlife and the destruction of tropical forests where most of the world’s species resides. BWS combines creative field-oriented approaches to conservation with innovative science and technology to dramatically improve how we monitor and protect endangered wildlife and their habitats.

For more information regarding this project, please contact Nathan Hahn at nhahn@resolv.org or +1 202-965-6204

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

Updated Version of RESOLVE and the World Economic Forum’s White Paper on Voluntary Responsible Mining Initiatives

Jul 29, 2016

Last March, RESOLVE and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Mining and Metals had the pleasure of presenting “Voluntary Responsible Mining Initiatives: A Review”, a white paper on voluntary responsible mining initiatives. Informed by a survey with over 100 respondents on perceptions regarding current initiatives and future directions, this white paper is intended to help stakeholders, ranging from upstream miners to retailers and manufacturers, to inform decisions about where to focus and what to prioritize as they seek to de-risk supply chains and promote responsible sourcing.

We invite you to read this updated version of the material, as well as circulating it among your networks.

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

New Research Suggests Tigers Can Come Back From Brink of Extinction If Habitats Are Preserved

Apr 1, 2016

Satellite analysis reveals tiger habitats are more intact than expected: an area large enough to double the wild tiger population remains

RESOLVE researchers published findings today in the journal Science Advances on the status of habitat for tigers. Some key takeaways from the study:

  • Tigers need large areas to survive but if well protected, populations can rebound quickly – Nepal and India experienced 61 and 31 percent increases, respectively, in their tiger populations recently thanks to better habitat protection and anti-poaching efforts.
  • The global tiger population now stands at fewer than 3,500; the international commitment is to double the population by 2022.
  • Scientists found less than 8 percent (79,600 km2) of global tiger habitat was lost between 2001 and 2014, habitat that could have supported about 400 tigers.
  • 98 percent of forest loss in tiger habitat occurred in just 10 landscapes, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia, where oil palm plantations are driving deforestation.
  • This is the first major study to use high and medium-resolution satellite data from Global Forest Watch to examine the impact of forest loss on tiger populations.

Enough forested habitat remains to bring the tiger back from the brink of extinction, according to new analysis published in Science Advances today by researchers at the University of Minnesota, RESOLVE, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Rainforest Alliance, Stanford University and World Resources Institute (WRI). The study found forest loss was lower than expected in tiger habitats, suggesting there is more than enough habitat remaining to achieve the international commitment of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022 (an initiative known as “Tx2”) with additional conservation investment.

Tiger looking for wild boar

Tigers like this one looking at a wild boar in Bandhavgarh National Park, India need ample space and food to survive. Photo credit: Suzanne Palminteri

Tiger populations can rebound quickly when habitat and prey are abundant and hunting is controlled. For example, Nepal and India have reported 61 and 31 percent increases in their tiger populations, respectively. This is partly thanks to conservation initiatives like the preservation of the cross-boundary Terai Arc Landscape. Reaching the Tx2 goal will require that any significant future tiger habitat loss is prevented, key corridors are restored between remaining forest fragments, nations implement green infrastructure to prevent habitat fragmentation, and conservation managers translocate and reintroduce tiger populations where necessary.

The study, “Tracking changes and preventing loss in critical tiger habitat,” shows that less than 8 percent (nearly 79,000 km2 or 30,000 mi2) of global forested habitat was lost from 2001-2014. This rate of forest loss is lower than anticipated, given that tiger habitats are generally distributed in fast-growing rural economies, some with high population densities and facing severe pressures from industrial agriculture.

Despite lower-than-expected levels of forest loss within tiger habitat, the study also confirms the precariousness of the species’ survival. The researchers estimate that forest clearing since 2001 resulted in the loss of habitat that could have supported an estimated 400 tigers. This is potentially devastating, considering the current global tiger population is fewer than 3,500 individuals. Furthermore, the study did not consider the deleterious effects of poaching and prey loss within these landscapes.

“After decades of working in tiger conservation, it is great to have some encouraging news for once,” said Eric Dinerstein, Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE and a Senior Fellow at WRI. “But illegal hunting of both tigers and prey can result in ‘empty forests’ without enough food or shelter to support large predators like tigers. Measuring and combatting this sort of forest impoverishment and its effects will be essential. It complements our efforts to identify habitat poaching in this study.”

The vast majority (98 percent) of tiger forest habitat loss occurred within just 10 landscapes, often driven by the conversion of natural forest to plantations for agricultural commodities such as palm oil. The landscapes with the highest percentage of forest clearing were in areas of Malaysia and Indonesia with heavy oil palm development, such as the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem in Sumatra, which has lost more than two-thirds (67 percent) of its forest since 2001, resulted in a loss of habitat sufficient to support an estimated 51 tigers. Palm oil development remains an ongoing threat in Indonesia alone, more than 4,000 km2 (1,544 mi2) of forest habitat, an area five times the size of New York City, have been allocated for oil palm concessions.

This Global Forest Watch map shows the extensive loss of forest all around Bukit Tigapuluh (Thirty Hills) National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia, one of a few refuges remaining for Sumatran tigers and a host of forest species. The clearing is recent: the intense illegal logging and planting of palm oil has destroyed more than two-thirds (67%) of the forest in the park since 2001, sufficient to have supported some 51 tigers. Image credit: Global Forest Watch. World Resources Institute. Accessed March 2016. www.globalforestwatch.org

GFW also provides monthly and in some cases weekly tree cover loss alerts that can empower park rangers and communities to monitor and protect tiger habitat, even at the finest scale of a single forest corridor used by a dispersing male tiger.

Anyone interested can explore the maps of tiger habitat and tree cover change online at globalforestwatch.org, or subscribe for forest clearing alerts here.

“It is remarkable and unexpected that tiger habitat has been relatively well-preserved over this 14-year period,” said the study’s lead author, Anup Joshi from the University of Minnesota. “It is not a sign that we are in the clear yet, but it does show us that tigers can potentially recover from the edge of extinction if we make the right forest management choices. We are seeing this already in areas like the border between Nepal and India, where forest cover is recovering with the help of communities and tigers are coming back in a big way.”

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

Apple’s Big Supply Chain Transparency Milestone

Apr 1, 2016

A Bloomberg Technology article explores Apple’s announcement on Wednesday that all 242 of its suppliers of tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold are now subject to third-party audits to determine any links to armed groups in the DRC. While many companies have sought to avoid any materials from DRC and the surrounding countries, Apple has worked with its suppliers (in some cases, “cajoling, persuading, and even embarrasing [them] by publishing their names”) to support conflict-free producers in the region. “We could have very easily chosen a path of re-routing our supply and declared ourselves conflict-free long ago, but that would have done nothing to help the people on the ground,” Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said. “We chose to engage with as many smelters as possible because the only way to have an impact here is to reach critical mass.”

The Enough Project also applauded this achievement. “Apple’s new supplier report is a model for how companies should be addressing conflict minerals,” said Sasha Lezhnev, Associate Director of Policy. “Apple’s tough love with its suppliers is critical to solving the problem of deadly conflict minerals — it offered assistance to suppliers but then took the difficult step of cutting out those who were unwilling to undergo an audit. Firm but fair follow-through by tech and other companies with their suppliers is a key step that’s needed to cut off global markets for conflict minerals.”

Apple and the Enough Projects are both members of the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, a coalition of 51 member organizations from industry, civil society, and government, for which RESOLVE serves as Secretariat. The PPA provides funding and coordination support to organizations working within the region to develop verifiable conflict-free supply chains align due diligence programs and practice, encourage responsible sourcing from the region, promote transparency, and bolster in-region civil society and government capacity.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Strategic Partner Mike Loch #1 | PPA Members among Top Conflict Minerals Influence Leaders

Mar 24, 2016

Congratulations to RESOLVE Strategic Partner Mike Loch, who was recognized as the #1 Conflict Minerals Influence Leader in 2016. Mike’s longstanding leadership includes highlights such as serving as the co-chair of the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative for over 7 years; leading the development and launch of the first Solutions for Hope pilots, and helping to establish and serving on the Governance Committee of the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA), for whom RESOLVE serves as Secretariat.

Along with Mike, current and former PPA members comprised 20% of the list, including Carrie George (Apple), Kelly Katynski (Ford Motor Company), Sophia Pickles (Global Witness), and Sasha Lezhnev (Enough Project) – all Governance Committee members; and Gary Niekerk and Bryan Fiereck (Intel), Yves Bawa (Pact), Leah Butler (EICC), Kay Nimmo (ITRI), Benedict Cohen (Boeing), John Plyler (Blackberry), Tim Mohin (AMD), Jay Celorie (Hewlett-Packard), Anita Gobor (Microsoft), Patricia Jurewicz (Responsible Sourcing Network), Joanne Lebert (Partnership Africa Canada), Mikko Suorsa (Nokia), Fiona Southward (IPIS), and Herbert Lust (formerly Boeing).

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Ambassador Samantha Power Recognizes PPA in Remarks Before the United Nations

Mar 24, 2016

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power recognized the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA) in her remarks before the UN on Monday. In her statement – which stressed the importance of rule of law, government accountability, and respect for human rights in creating the environment required for peace and economic development – Ambassador Power expressed concerns about recent trends in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi to delay scheduled elections and to suppress protest and critical commentary by civil society, opposition groups, and the media.

Ambassador Power exhorted those nations’ leaders to prioritize their countries’ stability and preserve the progress observed in the last decade by changing this course of action and instead promoting democratic processes. She underscored the United States’ commitment to partnership in supporting such processes, and to promoting stability and institution building in the region, saying, “This has been evident in our longstanding aid programs, our efforts to encourage stability, and our commitment to institution building. It is evident too in our strong support for the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Trade in Minerals, which we hope will enable supply chain solutions that encourage the legitimate trade of natural resources.

RESOLVE serves as secretariat to the PPA – a coalition of 51 member organizations from industry, civil society, and government (U.S. Department of State, USAID, and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region). The PPA provides funding and coordination support to organizations working within the region to develop verifiable conflict-free supply chains align due diligence programs and practice, encourage responsible sourcing from the region, promote transparency, and bolster in-region civil society and government capacity.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Transforming Development Planning at a Landscape-scale

Mar 16, 2016

Over the past decade, we’ve seen community-company development conflicts increase, often over issues like water access and impacts. We also know that if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we’ll need new planning models that take account of cumulative impacts.  In response to these needs and challenges, the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Mining and Metals (along with the Nature Conservancy and RESOLVE) has published Blueprints for a Greener Footprint. We are pitching landscape-scale planning as a tool to help achieve the SDGs.  Please share it widely in your networks.

Check out  a blog post from lead author, Bruce McKenney of TNC, on landscape-scale planning: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/the-best-laid-plans-are-the-big-ones

To listen to RESOLVE Podcasts on landscape-scale planning, visit: https://soundcloud.com/resolveradio, and particular, our interview with Bruce McKenney: https://soundcloud.com/resolveradio/bruce-mckenney-interview 

For more information on the RESOLVE’s work on landscape-scale planning, visit: http://solutions-network.org/site-gemmx/

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

RESOLVE and the World Economic Forum publish White Paper on Voluntary Responsible Mining Initiatives

Mar 9, 2016

On behalf of RESOLVE and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Mining and Metals, it is our pleasure to share “Voluntary Responsible Mining Initiatives: A Review,” our white paper on voluntary responsible mining initiatives. The white paper is informed by a survey with over 100 respondents on perceptions regarding current initiatives and future directions. The paper was presented last weekend at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto, where session participants discussed the survey findings and key conclusions, as well as potential next steps.

The white paper will be used to help stakeholders, ranging from upstream miners to retailers and manufacturers, to inform decisions about where to focus and what to prioritize as they seek to de-risk supply chains and promote responsible sourcing. We invite you to circulate this paper among your networks.

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance Announces Major Corporate Commitments to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

Mar 3, 2016

Bringing together unlikely partners to tackle complex global issues like wildlife trafficking, especially when the issues seem far removed from the products we use, is a major challenge.  But leaders in transport, e-commerce, fashion and jewelry, and philanthropy all have a role to play to close down markets to illegal products.

As part of the Administration’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking to stop the illegal trade of wildlife into the United States, President Obama announced the formation of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA) on July 31, 2015. RESOLVE played a catalytic role in building the USWTA partnership.

Today, sixteen leading companies, many building on previous efforts, announced jointly that they will not support illegal wildlife trade and will share best practices, communicate with their consumers about the widespread problem of wildlife trafficking in the U.S., and take steps to ensure their supply chains are free from illegal wildlife products.  RESOLVE commends them for their leadership.

Working Together to Shut Down the Illegal Wildlife Trade

RESOLVE is honored to be working with USWTA leaders including Chair and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, Michael Kowalski, Chair of the Board at Tiffany & Co. and Dave Stewart, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Vulcan Inc., among others, with USWTA to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products and mobilize companies to adopt best practices to ensure that their goods and services are not being utilized by illegal wildlife traffickers.

Hayes, who is also a former RESOLVE Board Member, captured the purpose of this partnership:  “The Alliance is honored to partner with leading companies, conservation organizations, and the U.S. government to educate U.S. consumers and shut down U.S. demand for illegal wildlife products. By putting our wallets in line with our values we can work together to protect these treasured species for the benefit of our planet, our security, and future generations.”

Wildlife Trafficking Facts

Wildlife trafficking, which is fueled by the illegal killing of hundreds of thousands of animals, is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry. Animals are killed to meet consumer demand for jewelry, clothing, and medicine, carvings, souvenirs, and art or other household decorations made from tusks, horns, fur, and skins.  Money from the illegal wildlife trade funds has been linked to terrorist organizations, drug lords, gangs, and corrupt governments—all at the expense of wild animals, the environment, and our national security.

RESOLVE’s Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions program works to conserve wildlife and wild places by applying cutting-edge data and technology from sectors as broad as defense, communications, surveillance, and medicine to provide solutions to wildlife poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

The Role of USWTA

The USWTA is a voluntary coalition of non-profit organizations, companies, foundations and media interests that work closely with the U.S. Government to reduce the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife products in the United States, a major consumer of illegally trafficked animal products.

The USWTA will help build consumer awareness of the impact of buying wildlife-related products—especially those from iconic, high-value species such as tigers, elephants, and rhinos—and the role played by illegal traffickers in funding global corruption and terrorism.

USWTA partners have committed to help educate customers and send a message to illegal wildlife distributors that their products are not welcome here. Business partners are also committing to ensure their supply chains are free of illegally-trafficked products.

The effort builds from the good work that many of these companies are already undertaking in their supply chains.  USWTA will help share these best practices and support further innovation, but we need more companies to lead by example.  USWTA aims to expand this initial partnership among leading businesses to target vulnerabilities in supply chains and trading routes and cut off market access for illegal wildlife products.

The US Government Commends USWTA
“We have made good progress in cracking down on this illegal market through cooperation across governments, but the private sector has an important role to play in these efforts,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. “I applaud the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and the leadership of David Hayes in encouraging thoughtful businesses and non-profits to step up with strong commitments to stop this scourge.”

The United States can be a global leader in helping to save wildlife from illegal killing. Government, business, and consumers can work together to protect these treasured species for the benefit of our planet, our security, and future generations.

—-Stephen D’Esposito, President


Posted in Blog | Comments Off

Presidential Memorandum Affirms RESOLVE’s work on Landscape-Scale Planning

Nov 3, 2015

Large-scale plans and analysis should inform the identification of areas where development may be most appropriate, where high natural resource values result in the best locations for protection and restoration, or where natural resource values are irreplaceable.”

Today the White House released a Presidential Memorandum calling for the use of “large-scale plans and analysis,” such as landscape-scale and watershed planning, to inform the design of federal policies and standards on conservation and natural resource development. This Memorandum echoes and affirms the work of RESOLVE’s Solutions Network, which is home to a multi-sector group seeking to advance the use of landscape-scale planning for responsible natural resource development. RESOLVE recently produced a series of podcast interviews exploring a variety of perspectives on landscape-scale planning, and RESOLVE and the World Economic Forum have commissioned a white paper by the Nature Conservancy on landscape-scale planning, which will be released later this year.

The Presidential Memorandum emphasizes the use of landscape-scale approaches to achieve both strong environmental outcomes and to encourage development by implementing policies that seek to reduce negative impacts and offset foreseeable harmful impacts to natural resources in advance. The Memorandum also encourages private investment in restoration efforts and public-private partnerships in to achieve restoration and conservation goals.

For more information on the RESOLVE’s work on landscape-scale planning, visit: http://solutions-network.org/site-gemmx/

To listen to RESOLVE Podcasts on landscape-scale planning, visit: https://soundcloud.com/resolveradio

To view the Presidential Memorandum, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/03/mitigating-impacts-natural-resources-development-and-encouraging-related

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

Recent Tweets