Over the past decade, some of the world’s most endangered species have come under increasing pressure from threats such as poaching. Well-run conservation areas are a safe haven for populations of threatened species like elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, great apes, and tigers, but with a lack of effective monitoring to understand where threats are happening and limited resources and capacity to address them, conservation management remains challenging.
To help bridge this gap, an international partnership of conservation organizations developed the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) Approach. The SMART Approach combines a cutting edge law enforcement monitoring tool with capacity building and a set of best practices in implementation. The tool makes it possible to collect, store, communicate and analyze ranger-collected data on illegal activities, such as poaching, wildlife and patrol routes to understand where efforts should focus, and evaluate ranger performance.
Get SMART about Conservation (narrated by William H. Macy)
The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) is a groundbreaking and innovative management approach designed to assist rangers on the ground to stop poachers in their tracks and curb the illegal trade of wildlife.
The SMART Partnership
The SMART Partnership, comprised of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Global Wildlife Conservation, North Carolina Zoo, Panthera, Peace Parks Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, and Zoological Society of London, is dedicated to supporting the needs of the global conservation community. The Partnership is a positive example of an effective global conservation collaboration—its ability to focus on a well-defined goal that responds to a pressing conservation need has been fundamental to its success to date.
How it Works
Data on poaching signs, wildlife observations, arrests and other patrol results are logged in the field by rangers on hand-held computers or paper forms and GPS units. Once back at HQ, this is fed into a central computer where you can ask questions of SMART, such as: where did my rangers go, how many foot patrols resulted in poacher arrests, or where were carcasses recorded? You can then easily convert this information into visually informative maps, charts, and reports.
Jampel Lhendup is a former poacher turned Forester at Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan. He shares the impact SMART has had on his work:
'[Prior to SMART Implementation] our patrolling did not have a clear objective. There was not even basic information on the protected area like what the threats were, where they were and how many there were. There was no system to store and analyse this information. SMART transformed the way I do my job. It has made my patrolling objective clear and every individual ranger’s work is being tracked by this system. The data has become a source of intelligence for me.
'For example, the SMART patrol report for March 2015 showed threats in certain points of the park. We patrolled those areas and within two days, we arrested 3 poachers and 3 illegal fishermen…sometimes I’m very grateful… because if this system was there when my father and I were poaching, the rangers could have easily caught us. My life could have turned out very differently.'
Data collection in Nepal. Photo: Barney Long
There are now more than 147 sites across the globe implementing SMART, with many other sites in the process of planning for adoption. Eight protected area and wildlife agencies have committed to implement the SMART Approach across their entire protected area networks. These include Belize, Bhutan, Colombia, Gabon, Madagascar, Peru, Thailand, and Uganda.
There have been three public releases of the SMART software, with each new version incorporating new functionality based on critical feedback from users on the ground. One of the key needs identified by users was the capacity to collate, manage and visualise ecological monitoring data. This functionality was built and released as a plug-in to the software in a later release.
The SMART Approach has invested in building capacity alongside software development. Users are supported with a suite of training materials and are able to access information about the best practises for implementation of the SMART Approach through the SMART website and online community.
SMART In Action: Cambodia
The remaining wildlife in Seima Protected Forest, including the treasured elephant, is under constant threat from poaching, logging, mining, agriculture, and infrastructure development. Due to a combination of factors, such as limited rangers and remote substations, it is difficult to manage patrol efforts and achieve conservation goals. The team uses SMART to collate and transform collected data into easy to read maps of patrol coverage and observations, as well as summary tables of effort, results, confiscations and arrests.
To help managers monitor staff performance and make adjustments to the allocation of human resources and equipment, the team leverages SMART’s easy to use Planning function. They set numeric targets, such as number of kms of foot patrols per month, and spatial targets, such as locations of threat hotspots or wildlife habitats in SMART.
Results from patrols can quickly indicate where problems are emerging. For example, during one month in 2014, patrol teams along the access road spent far greater time conducting roadblocks and sitting at their guardpost than they did foot patrolling in the forest and looking for snares and signs of hunting. When compared with other data, such as snare records from an independent survey team, it was understood that the team was failing to impact hunting in the patrol sector.
Conversely, at Sre Pleng, the team focused on monitoring hunting hotspots, mostly mineral licks, frequented by banteng, elephants and sambar, with foot patrols reaching all spatial targets. The database manager now routinely uses the SMART Planning feature as one means to evaluate progress of patrol teams towards monthly targets, and in turn to assess the performance of patrol team leaders.
Rangers collecting data in Cambodia. Photo: WCS Cambodia
Future developments: Stay Tuned!
The SMART Partnership is in the process of developing SMART Connect based on a second wave of feedback from the global community of users. SMART Connect will provide real time access to, and integration of, information on locations of poachers, patrols, and key wildlife species. This development will transform how anti-poaching operations are coordinated and managed, improving the speed and effectiveness of law enforcement’s response to poaching.
About the Author
Alexa Montefiore is the Program Manager for the SMART Partnership. She is hosted by WCS on behalf of the SMART Partnership and works across the entire Partnership to encourage adoption of SMART worldwide and to establish greater support for the implementing partners.
The header image for this article is of WCS staff/Community rangers testing mobile devices in the Mbe Mountains Community Wildlife Sanctuary, Nigeria. Photo credit: Richard Bergl/North Carolina Zoo.