discussion / Community Base  / 18 November 2019

An Engineer’s Experience at International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB)

I am an Engineer by degree conducting research in the area of artificial intelligence, sensors, signal, and image processing. In the recent years, our group has started working on using these technologies for wildlife monitoring applications. I see an immense scope for applying innovative technologies for solving a number of conservation issues and assist the researchers to conduct better conservation studies. I find Wildlabs.net platform very handy providing latest updates at the intersection of technology for wildlife. I have been looking for suitable opportunities for interacting with conservation researchers to share our work and explore other possible challenge domains that can be worked towards using technology.

Big thanks to Wildlabs.net, through which I came to know about International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) and the ICCB Conservation Technology Award, perfect opportunity we were looking for. We have submitted our work on “Seismic Sensing System for Elephant Movement Detection in the context of mitigating threats to wild elephants by the railways” which is a joint collaborative research initiative among, CSIR-Central Scientific Instruments Organisation, Chandigarh (CSIR-CSIO), Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun (WII) and Worldwide fund for nature, India (WWF-India). Bingo, our research has been selected for the oral presentation session and I was awarded the ‘ICCB Conservation Technology Award’ by Society for Conservation Biology’s Conservation Technology group with generous financial support from Microsoft for presenting our research at 29th International Congress on Conservation Biology (ICCB 2019), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I had an enriching experience at ICCB 2019, which was held from 21-25 July 2019 by Society for Conservation Biology at KLCC. In addition, there were paid short courses that were conducted on 20-21 July 2019 before the conference duration (which I have not enrolled for).

The delegates of the congress are typically, involved with the science and practice of conserving biological diversity. The conference had five plenary speaker sessions covering a broad spectrum of conservation issues from plastic crisis to faith and conservation to diversity in science to saving wildlife. The conference had scientific presentations in three different forms, oral presentations, speed talks, and poster session.

Typically, 8-10 parallel scientific sessions were happening at a given point of time throughout the conference duration except for the plenary sessions. The evenings and the lunch hours also had Chapter meetings, informal meeting, and networking opportunities.

I upfront identified the sessions and talks I wanted to attend using the user-friendly ICCB app on my mobile, and managed to attend the sessions of my interest and interact with people, however, I still missed on few opportunities. For any newcomer, I would strongly recommend to identify the sessions of their interest beforehand to make the best of it. In addition, a number of networking opportunities are planned / announced during the congress, so be on a lookout for such opportunities at the expo area and social media platforms.

If you are a Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) member, it is an excellent chance to get updates of SCB and the various Chapters. As the annual general body meeting of SCB, the various Chapters, Sections, and Working Groups of Society for Conservation Biology were also during the conference.

As I was interested in tech for wildlife, I attended related talks and networking events. I have gained insights on the different problem areas where technology is currently being used for wildlife conservation and opportunities for new technology application and the challenges of tech for wildlife.

Specifically in the area of tech for wildlife, an interesting multi-collaborator initiative called Wildlife insights; automated tool for analysing camera trap data was very impressive.

Another interesting session was the Symposium on developing conservation technology for impact. It had speakers presenting their work in the in the conservation tech area. The work ranged from open source community model for tech development to bring down to the production costs (AudioMoth), initiatives for mobilizing makers (Conservation X Labs), the citizen science approach (Conservify) the importance of coalitions for scaling up of deployment (SMART), cross-sector collaboration for impact (Wildlife Insights)  and creating impact by building communities (Wildlabs.net).

I have attended the SCB’s Conservation Technology Working Group (ConsTech WG) annual meeting.  The members deliberated on a number of points, such as the need to identify the stories of successes and failure in tech for wildlife, create technology roadmaps, create a landscape map to identify who is who in conservation tech space and ways to reduce duplication, the role of end user in tools development.

Another interesting part of ICCB is the associated exhibition in the area of conservation biology. The expo had demonstrations from renowned global industrial participants (wildlife acoustics, shell catch, advance telemetry systems, etc.) working in the area of technology for wildlife monitoring have exhibited their products (radio collars, bat monitoring systems, acoustic recording systems, etc.).

In addition, various organisations - National Geographic, WWF Malaysia, University of Nottingham Malaysia, Wildlife Trust of India, Whitley fund for nature, etc. have showcased the conservation challenges, the issues addressed by them and funding opportunities.

Another benefit of attending the ICCB 2019 was an Interactive Grant Writing Workshop was organised by ICCB 2019 sponsor, National Geographic exclusively for ICCB Asia participants on 26th and 27th July 2019, after the conference. It was a free workshop but the seats were limited. My application was accepted and I could participate in the event for the first day. It provided information and practice about developing key attributes of a successful NGS grant. Also, the participants received one on one feedback on their project proposal from NGS grants staff which was very useful.

Overall, it was a wonderful enriching experience at ICCB 2019.  I am keen on utilizing the ICCB experience in my future research in the area of wildlife conservation using technology. I once again thank partners for the research collaboration and my institute (CSIR-CSIO), Wildlabs.net, SCB ConsTech WG & Microsoft for the funding support.