Protecting big cats from poachers requires skilled teams of forest patrollers. These men and women endure some of the toughest terrain in Asia and Africa—and put their lives at stake each time they enter the forest, dodging fallen trees, flash floods, snake bites, animal attacks, and other dangers.
What can we do from the office to keep them safe and agile during these long expeditions? Giving them the tools to navigate the landscapes they monitor is a start.
We’re all used to using the GPS on our phones to navigate the world around us. What many people don’t realize, however, is that GPS is only a locator—without a map underneath your location, the GPS is of little use. In some remote areas supported by Panthera’s anti-poaching teams, maps are old and out of date; in others, they don’t exist at all.
Here is the landscape where one of our teams is currently working. Imagine trying to find a route between the two X’s.
Now imagine doing it without a map. What was already difficult just got a lot harder.
Panthera recently teamed with the geography department at the University of Montana to provide local conservation staff, including anti-poaching patrols, accurate and up-to-date maps and mapping products. Using high-resolution satelite imagery generously donated by DigitalGlobe, we crafted print maps for use in planning and digital copies for GPS units.
There are fewer than 20,000 lions left in the wild today, and the species is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. The situation is particularly worrisome in West Africa, where only approximately 400 individuals remain in four isolated populations.
As a result, lions there are considered “Critically Endangered.” One of the four remaining populations persists in the Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal, West Africa’s second largest national park, covering more than 9,000 square kilometers.
While Niokolo-Koba could potentially harbor up to 200 lions, given its size and ecological characteristics, very few lions survive in the park today. In April, Panthera’s Dr. Philipp Henschel presented a new set of maps created in Montana for Niokolo-Koba National Park to Commandant Amar Fall, the park’s head conservator. The park’s rangers have been using them to navigate trails, roads, and rivers quicker and more efficiently.
The tools have already helped plan routing for a 35-kilometer all-weather access road to the new ranger guard post and revealed 200 previously unknown watering holes—key hotspots that attract poachers, and therefore essential for the anti-poaching teams to protect. Rangers will incorporate the bigger water points into their patrol routes.
Meanwhile, patrollers in Malaysia’s Kenyir-Taman-Negara region—where poaching threatens one of the few remaining tiger populations in Southeast Asia—are also often stymied by a lack of accurate topographic maps. The rugged terrain inside the park is difficult to navigate, and park patrol teams are currently at a disadvantage to local poachers, who know the area well.
Once again, DigitalGlobe has donated fine-scale satellite imagery, and our team of cartographers are currently painstakingly hand-digitizing the imagery into mapping layers that will become the finished products.
The creation and delivery of high-quality topographic maps, paired with hands-on training in map navigation skills, will enable patrol teams to regain control of the park and pursue poachers in formerly remote and difficult to navigate areas.
To learn more about our lion conservation work, click here. Learn about our Tigers Forever program here.
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