|Can Big Data Save The Last Of India's Wild Tigers?
THE HUFFINGTON POST
18 January 2015
Ensia | Roger Drouin
This story originally appeared on Ensia.
in small, nomadic groups, carrying knives, axes and steel traps, tiger
poachers in India have long held advantages over those trying to
protect the big cats. The poachers, motivated mainly by demand for
tiger bones used in traditional medicine in China, return every two to
three years to places where they know “every stream and rocky outcrop”
and set traps along tigers’ pathways or near watering holes, says
Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society
of India. They are seldom caught.
“They have unbelievable knowledge and jungle craft,” Wright says. “They will use every trick in the book.”
a study published last August by Wright, ecologist Koustubh Sharma and
colleagues could help turn the tide against tiger poaching in India,
home to more than half of the tiger’s global wild population.
study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, applied a new
method to estimate the probability of occurrence and detection of tiger
crime in various areas of India, then used it to identify 73 key “hot
spots” with high likelihood of tiger poaching and trafficking in tiger
parts. According to the authors, it could lead to more efficient
anti-poaching efforts by giving conservationists, enforcement officials
and forest rangers working to save the tigers the ability to home in on
where enforcement is needed most and thus improve the odds of saving
India’s imperiled national animal.
Over the past few years,
Sharma, a senior regional ecologist with Snow Leopard Trust and
scientist with Nature Conservation Foundation, and his team wrote
computer code and analyzed 25,000 data points — collected since 1972
across 605 districts — on wildlife poaching crimes, including locations
of confirmed tiger poaching instances and sites where tiger parts had
been seized. “It’s such a huge dataset that whenever I would run the
analysis cycle, it would take 20 to 25 minutes for each model,” Sharma
“An intelligence network is the most crucial step in
curbing tiger and wildlife crime,” says Wright. More intelligence means
being able to better place informers on the ground and use cell phone
interceptions. It also means knowing where to target field patrols and
forest ranger activities. Of utmost importance, Sharma says, is knowing
where crime patterns have changed as poachers’ tactics change. That’s
why researchers worked to formulate modeling that could be updated