A new report published by DigitalGlobe Inc. (NYSE: DGI), African Parks, Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project details how the use of satellite imagery and predictive analytics is helping park rangers combat illegal elephant poaching in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park.
The African elephant population has declined by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years, and poachers are killing the elephants of Garamba at an unprecedented pace. Since mid-April 2014, park rangers have found the carcasses of 131 elephants, slaughtered for their ivory tusks that can sell for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market.
Unlike in the past, when criminal gangs carried out most of the poaching, the main actors appear to be heavily armed groups using professional techniques, some of which have been involved in Central Africa’s many conflicts and have carried out atrocities against civilians, creating much misery and suffering over the past decade.
For Garamba’s rangers, tracking poachers through the vast park is daunting and dangerous. The park itself spans an area of about 4,920 square kilometers. With limited resources, rangers face the daunting task of tracking elusive groups of poachers who use stealth and an intimate knowledge of the terrain.
Working with the Enough Project and African Parks, which manages Garamba on behalf of the Congolese government, DigitalGlobe analysts were given the location and date of the elephant remains discovered between 2011 and 2013, elephant collar data, ranger patrol routes, and the locations of known poacher camps. Using this data, analysts conducted historical geospatial trend analysis, cost surface travel analysis, key terrain analysis, and predictive analysis using DigitalGlobe’s Signature Analyst™ geospatial analytic software.
The analysis revealed areas of the park that share similar geospatial characteristics with the locations of previous poaching sites, where future poaching incidents are most likely to occur. The result was a 98% reduction in the area of the park in which poaching is likely to occur, including a 95% reduction in the area of the historical poaching zone.
“By focusing on the many geospatial factors that make some areas of the park more vulnerable to poaching than others, we can extrapolate that data to predict where poachers may strike next,” said Heath Rasco, DigitalGlobe senior geospatial scientist. “This information is being used to focus scarce patrol resources and establish checkpoints at key access points to poaching hot spots.”
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