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"World Wildlife Day 2024: How Can Digital Innovation Connect People and Planet for Conservation?"

The theme of World Wildlife Day 2024 is a very apt one for the times. With digital innovation expanding into new areas and creating new possibilities at a fast pace, wildlife conservation efforts are able to better connect with people than ever before.

Not all that long ago in the greater scheme of things, much of the world was an undiscovered wilderness, irresistible to those of adventurous hearts and curious minds. Amongst those on expeditions of exploration were botanists and zoologists, eager to record some of the plants and animals they saw. Part scientist, part artist, they used their pens and paper to draw and annotate what they saw.

Some of the results were stiff and not terribly accurate. To a modern audience, used to high resolution, full colour, moving images, they can even seem a little comical. They were certainly a far cry from Richard Attenborough's stunningly filmed Planet Earth Series. Nevertheless, they provide an invaluable record of plants and animals on which to build our knowledge of our beautiful wild planet, and more importantly, like the Planet Earth Series does today, they increased people's interest and understanding, and hence love, of the natural world.

Vintage drawing of a leopard, origin unknown
Vintage drawing of a leopard, origin unknown

The advent of cameras and their subsequent evolution into the high tech tools that produce the incredible full colour, detailed, moving images we have today has delivered full access to, and a far better understanding of, the incredible world of plants and animals right to our living rooms. The advent of Go Pro cameras and drones has allowed us intimate and overarching view points that early scientists could not even have imagined.

Digital innovation has placed us in a better position to be awed and wowed by the natural beauty of our world and its inhabitants than ever before. The importance of this to the conservation of these same wild natural resources, cannot be understated and is best summed up by Baba Dioum: "For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught".

In addition to making the natural world accessible to all through captured images, digital technology has also broadened the scope of what is possible in terms of research and monitoring of both plants and animals, and in this way great enhances both our knowledge of the natural world and also our ability to respond, by fine tuning conservation efforts.

Drone technology has allowed us both to view things from a distance and also (thanks to the amazing zoom technology of drone cameras), to view details from a distance which is not disruptive to the subjects we are viewing. In this way we are able see and follow animals to witness their natural behavior and movement more closely than ever before, without them being aware or disturbed by us observing them.

Drone photo of giraffe taken at Chishakwe Safaris, Save Valley Conservancy, South East Lowveld, Zimbabwe
Drone photo of giraffe taken at Chishakwe

A key component of any conservation effort is to monitor or conduct a regular census of the animal populations and vegetation density and health. Drone technology has dramatically decreased the cost of aerial surveys and the onboard cameras have improved accuracy.

Another nifty way to observe animal movements with minimum disruption to the animals themselves is to deploy camera traps. These are triggered into taking a photo by the movement of animals passing near them. Used on game paths or at game intersections they can give conservationists a fairly good idea of what animals are using what areas and how often. While the photos are not of pristine quality they are fit for purpose and often show amusing or interesting aspects of animal behaviour that would be difficult to witness otherwise.

For World Wildlife Day 2024, conservation efforts are only just starting to seriously apply digital technology in various ways. Already, there have been amazing advancements. We have mentioned only three different ways that digital technology has made a difference here. We have focused on three aspects that, we believe, serve to better connect people with our amazing planet and its inhabitants.

Were World Wildlife Day to present the same theme of How Can Digital Innovation Connect People and Planet for Conservation in a few years time we do not doubt that there will be many more new and exciting innovations, allowing us to better connect with and understand wildlife, to report. At the end of the day, this can only be a good thing for the future of the plants and animals battling to find space to exist in our world.


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