9 ingenious solutions for protecting the world’s wildlife

The crises facing the world's wild animals are leading to some incredible, creative new ideas
By Graeme Green

1: Beehive fences

Photo from Elephants and Bees Project

When elephants raid local villages in Africa to eat their crops, villagers often respond angrily with spears or arrows, harming or killing the elephants. Dr Lucy King came up with an inventive solution: beehive fences.

Elephants are afraid of swarming bees, as their trunks and ears are vulnerable, as is the thin skin of baby elephants with their thin skin. Developed by Save the Elephants and the Elephants and Bees Project, beehive fences have been used to protect villages and farms in Kenya. Fences are loaded with Africa honey bee hives act as a deterrent, reducing damage caused by crop-raiding elephants, with the added bonus of providing honey for local people to eat and sell.

2: World’s biggest wildlife ‘highway’

Photo from RCD

Work’s currently underway to create the world’s biggest wildlife ‘highway’, which could save mountain lions, or cougars, from extinction.

Expected to be completed in 2023, the $87 million (£70.7 million) wildlife corridor will form a 167-foot long bridge over the 10 lanes of the 101 highway in Los Angeles, USA.

The Santa Monica Mountains form one of the US’s most important ‘biodiversity hotspots’, home to almost 50 mammal species, 400 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 1,000 plant species, including more than 50 threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.

Large roads not only lead to wildlife deaths from traffic collisions, but by limiting animal movement, they also isolate animals in small areas. Mountain lions need to roam to find mates; without the genetic diversity that comes from finding mates in other areas, scientists warn mountain lions in southern California could become extinct within 50 years. The restricted movement also impacts other local wildlife, including bobcats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, snakes, butterflies, all of which will benefit from the highway.

3: Self-defending cows

Photo by Esteban Payan / Panthera

Human-wildlife conflict is a big issue around the world, especially as human populations expand. Conflict with humans is the second biggest threat facing Colombia’s jaguars. Ranchers can lose up to 5 per cent of their cattle each year to jaguars, with jaguars killed in retaliatory attacks.

Keeping animals safely away from jaguar attacks is a tough task for ranchers. A new approach lets the cows defend themselves. Cows in the Los Llanos region are mostly Zebu, popular with ranchers for their size and rapid growth. But Zebu tend to panic when jaguars attack. Esteban Payán from Panthera’s idea is to introduce San Martineros, a breed of cows known to forcefully defend themselves. Female San Martineros surround their calves, while bulls face their attacker, stamp, bellow and charge at the jaguar with levelled horns.

With San Martineros reducing cattle fatalities, farmers are less likely to kill jaguars.

4: Fiery radio drama

Photo by WCS Belize Program

Getting information out to people to help protect wildlife can be a struggle. In Belize, WCS Belize created Punta Fuego, a fictional radio drama series that ran on Love FM, Belize’s leading radio station, which followed the life and loves of Richie, a young fisherman.

The show was used to transmit messages to people across Belize on sustainable fishing practices, including Marine-Protected Areas (MPS) and ‘no take zones’. Each episode was followed by a call-in segment, with audience interaction and guests who answered questions. Listeners became more informed and likely to follow sustainable fishing behaviours, helping to protect MPAs, replenish fish stocks and work towards protecting 10 per cent of Belize’s territorial sea.

5: A Wild Ass’s Perspective

Photo from WCS

A new collaring system from Wildlife Conservation Society and other scientists is providing a useful picture of animal life. Rather than just tracking an animal’s movements, as a satellite collar does, ‘camera collars’ have been placed on khulan, aka the Mongolian wild ass, a far-ranging species found in the Gobi Desert. 

The camera collars take regular photos from the animal’s life; in the case of the khulan, the collar recorded 7,881 images in one year, which provided valuable insight into their behaviour, including how they interact near livestock and human developments, both potential sources of conflict. 

Scientists hope camera collars can be used to learn about and protect other far-ranging species.

6: Polar Bear Early Warning System

Photo by Tim Auer

Polar Bears International are testing a surveillance radar system called SpotterRF to detect polar bears as they approach communities, helping reduce dangerous encounters between polar bears and people. The devices are similar to those designed for military use, to warn of threats like drones or vehicles.

In the Arctic, polar bears are increasingly forced ashore, away from their seal prey, by melting ice. With climate change making ice-free periods longer, human-polar bear conflicts are likely to increase. 

The radar system’s currently being trialled in Churchill, Manitoba in Canada, the polar bear capital of the world. Manitoba already has conservation officers in place to spot bears and send warnings to residents, but human patrols can be limited by darkness, fog or snowstorms. When the radar detects a moving object, an alert is triggered.

Early warning systems could be rolled out to other northern communities.

7: Lion Lights

Photo from Wildlife Direct

Kenyan Maasai cattle herder Richard Turere created Lion Lights to keep his cattle safe from lion attacks. Cattle in Kitengela, south of unfenced Nairobi National Park, were vulnerable to lion attacks. Lions were sometimes killed in revenge.

Turere tried kerosene lamps and scarecrows, which didn’t work. But he realised lions were scared of moving lights, which they associated with humans carrying torches, so he installed flashing, solar-powered LED lights on his family’s cow shed. Lion attacks ceased, and Lion Lights were installed not only on neighbours’ farms but the idea has spread across Kenya and Tanzania, and even to Asia for use against tigers.

It’s thought the lights also deter cheetahs and leopards, reducing the number of big cat deaths in Africa.

8: Sharing animal ‘selfies’

Photo by Emmanuel Rondeau

Not to be confused with people taking selfies with wild animals, which are usually a terrible idea, a new project is bringing together animal photos from around the world, helping conservationists expand and share their knowledge.

Motion-detector cameras, known as camera traps, are used by international researchers, but many of the photos are never seen or used, meaning valuable data is lost.

Wildlife Insights is a new cloud-based platform, operated by Conservation International, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society and others, that will enable researchers (and anyone else) to view, share and analyse camera-trap images and information. Working with Google, the platform’s developed algorithms to identify and tag species, meaning animals can be located and identified quicker than ever before.

The photos and data can be used by managers of protected areas, anti-poaching programs, law-makers and indigenous communities, and should help recover and stabilise wildlife populations around the world.

9: Crime-fighting App

Photo from Wildlife Direct

A new iCourtroom App, developed by Wildlife Direct, aims to help deliver justice in courtrooms across Kenya.

The iCourtroom Wildlife Crime System is designed to monitor all wildlife crime cases across the country. Once launched, the App will allow prosecutors, judges and magistrates access to reference materials, texts and laws. It will also allow officials to have conviction data at their fingertips, giving them the ability to enhance penalties against repeat offenders. 

In making the justice system more effective, it should helping reduce levels of poaching and wildlife crime.

Graeme Green is a photographer and journalist:

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NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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