Smile, Tiger Poachers: You’re on Hidden Camera


Asia’s critically endangered tigers have a new friend: a high-tech camera that can detect poachers and automatically trigger the deployment of wildlife rangers and other law enforcement authorities.

The cameras—called PoacherCams—have been developed by the big cat conservation organization Panthera, which plans to put 500 of them in crucial tiger habitats over the next year. Thousands more will be installed elsewhere in Asia and Africa by 2018 to help protect other cat species such as snow leopards and lions, all of which are being killed for their bones, fur, or other valuable body parts.

PoacherCams are similar to existing wildlife-monitoring cameras, which employ motion-detection systems and invisible infrared flashes to photograph anything that walks in front of them. Unlike other cameras, however, a PoacherCam contains software that can tell if what is photographed is an animal or a human. If it’s the latter, the device connects with cellular networks to send a copy of the photo to authorities, who can decide if they need to mobilize forces to stop potential poachers, ideally long before they kill an endangered species.

Another difference is the price: PoacherCams cost less than $300, according to Nick Beale, head of security and operations for Panthera’s tiger team. That's significantly cheaper than typical cameras, which go for about $1,000.

He said the cameras could prove particularly useful given that tigers have been forced into increasingly smaller territories.

"People still think there are vast wildernesses in Asia, and unfortunately that’s not the case anymore,” Beale noted. “The fact of the matter is that tigers live in these very compressed zones."

He said for now, that’s an advantage for enforcement teams. "We can look at a confined space rather than the huge expanse of Africa."

He said there wouldn’t always be a response from rangers to a camera alert.

“It could be an old lady and her grandson walking alongside a protected area—that’s not an issue,” Beale said. “It could be somebody crossing over into the boundary of a protected area with a rifle; that would trigger a response.”

Panthera has been testing and refining the cameras for the past few years and credits the technology with arrests in at least five countries. The organization manufactures the cameras itself to keep costs down and then donates the devices to its partners around the world.

This story was originally published on Take Part.

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