N.C. Zoo develops tool to prevent poaching

Data collection tool helps with anti-poaching efforts worldwide

The North Carolina Zoo Invents Tool to Prevent Illegal Poaching
May 17, 2018

Everybody wants to make a difference and make things better and hopefully we all do in some way. But it turns out a tool developed at the North Carolina Zoo is really making a difference in helping to save endangered species around the world. It’s called the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool; SMART for short.

The device operates as a very simple smart phone. It’s water-proof, shock proof and poacher proof. And that’s why Rich Bergl’s creation makes a difference.

“Rangers can log observations such as animal sightings, behavior changes and illegal activity,” says Bergl, director of Conservation Education and Science at the North Carolina Zoo. “So if a ranger sees something that is critically important, the information can be entered and relayed to base camps so authorities can respond appropriately.”

Bergl worked with the Bronx Zoo and dozens of conservation groups worldwide to develop the technology in 2011. Authorities in 55 nations now use the SMART system. Bergl and colleagues are constantly traveling around the world to teach the technology. Many of those trips take him to African wildlife refuges. He’s just back from Namibia, where the director of the Panthera cheetah program at Etosha National Park said SMART has made a big difference.

“SMART makes data collection and storage easier and that allows us to focus more on evaluating what the information is telling us,” said Kin Young. Sadly, there are many species on the brink of extinction, but Bergl points to data showing SMART is helping to save Africa’s endangered species, including elephants. The 2017 SMART report shows there are seven times more elephants in areas patrolled by rangers using the SMART system.

—Frank Graff 

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!