Can big data save the last of India’s wild tigers?

Can big data save the last of India's wild tigers?
Photo Credit: Bjorn Ognibeni/Flickr
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Traveling in small, nomadic groups, carrying knives, axes and steel traps, tiger poachers in India have long held advantages over those trying to protect the big cats. The poachers, motivated mainly by demand for tiger bones used in traditional medicine in China, return every two to three years to places where they know “every stream and rocky outcrop” and set traps along tigers’ pathways or near watering holes, said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. They are seldom caught.

“They have unbelievable knowledge and jungle craft,” Wright said. “They will use every trick in the book.”

But a study published last August by Wright, ecologist Koustubh Sharma and colleagues could help turn the tide against tiger poaching in India, home to more than half of the global wild tiger population.

The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, applied a new method to estimate the probability of occurrence and detection of tiger crime in various areas of India, then used it to identify 73 key “hot spots” with high likelihood of tiger poaching and trafficking in tiger parts. According to the authors, it could lead to more efficient anti-poaching efforts by giving conservationists, enforcement officials and forest rangers working to save the tigers, the ability to home in on where enforcement is needed most and thus improve the odds of saving India’s imperiled national animal.

Charting patterns

Over the past few years, Sharma, a senior regional ecologist with Snow Leopard Trust and scientist with Nature Conservation Foundation, and his team wrote computer code and analysed 25,000 data points –collected since 1972 across 605 districts – on wildlife poaching crimes, including locations of confirmed tiger poaching instances and sites where tiger parts had been seized. “It’s such a huge dataset that whenever I would run the analysis cycle, it would take 20 to 25 minutes for each model,” Sharma said.

“An intelligence network is the most crucial step in curbing tiger and wildlife crime,” said Wright. More intelligence means being able to better place informers on the ground and use cell phone interceptions. It also means knowing where to target field patrols and forest ranger activities. Of utmost importance, Sharma said, is knowing where crime patterns have changed as poachers’ tactics change. That is why researchers worked to formulate modeling that could be updated regularly.

“At the end of the day we have to try to be a step ahead of the criminals,” said Sharma. “That’s what insurance companies and banks do. They do models and create projections, and invest. We have something similar. We have these models and projections, and we have to invest accordingly.”

Current hot spots for tiger crime identified by the study include some regions that surprised researchers and could likely benefit from increased enforcement. The Nepal-India border region, for instance, has had less enforcement in the past than other areas, Sharma said. The study found that the region has been under growing poaching pressure, likely due to an increase in the local tiger population and its role as a hub for trafficking tiger bones into China, Sharma said. “That is an area we are highlighting as a hot spot where policy makers should take action,” he said.

Attracting attention

The formulas used to calculate current and changing hot spots is already getting the attention of those charged with preventing illegal poaching across India.The study also found evidence that poachers prefer to use rail routes, where they can more easily blend in with millions of passengers daily. At least 17 districts far from tiger forests, including Delhi and Indore, scored high on tiger crime because they are trade hubs.

The formulas used to calculate current and changing hot spots is already getting the attention of those charged with preventing illegal poaching across India. In September, Sharma called the paper to the attention of Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India, who forwarded the findings to field managers in charge of monitoring wild tigers and fighting poachers in tiger reserves and buffer areas. Sharma noted that the methodology, combined with on-the-ground enforcement, can also be used to curb illegal poaching of other species, from leopards to pangolins.

“What we need is good technology and good enforcement on the ground,” Wright said. “Nothing can replace a human with two legs, two hands and a brain.”

Roger Drouin is a freelance environmental journalist and author. He covers species conservation, from bats to snow leopards, and energy issues. He blogs atwww.rogersoutdoorblog.com.

[“source-Scroll”]

Google Maps for Android Can Now Figure Out Where You’re Going

Google Maps for Android Can Now Figure Out Where You're Going

Google Maps is all set to receive its first major update in 2016 which brings several new features including Driving mode and more.

The new Google Maps for Android version 9.19 is currently not available on Google Play and can be expected to be rolled out soon. For those who can’t wait for the new features can download the apk which is signed by Google via APK Mirror.

One of the biggest highlights of the upcoming Maps update is the ‘intelligent’ Driving mode which essentially utilises the user’s location history and Web searches to provide traffic updates and ETA (estimated time of arrival). The new Driving mode feature is an optional feature in the new Maps update for Android. It can be enabled from a shortcut on the home screen and can also be turned on from the navigation drawer.

Android Police points out that Driving mode in the latest update is already plagued with a bug that actually makes it hard to switch on the feature. “Driving mode has to be enabled through some arcane set of steps on each device before it can actually be used,” writes Cody Toombs of Android Police. Google may fix the bug before making the new app available to all users, and so a gradual rollout could be expected.

The new Maps for Android update (version 9.19) also brings the on-screen toggle for turning on or off the turn-by-turn voice assistance. Previously, the toggle for audio was shifted to overflow menu making it harder for users to turn on or off the option while driving.

The Google Maps interface has also received minor tweaks with the Manage location settings option been switched for Timeline settings. The new setting allows users to control what the users see and restrict data usage. Some of the other additions include to option to see images from Google Photos or switch on the search option to correct an inaccurately feed location.

[“Source-Gadgets”]