Alexa Montefiore presents about SMART at the WPC. Photo by Linda Holcombe

A SMART new tool to protect wildlife

The World Parks Congress (WPC) in Sydney was an incredible opportunity to network with organizations and individuals, experience how protected areas are managed in Australia, and preview or play with many of the newest technologies available to help conservationists do their jobs successfully and more efficiently. The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, or SMART, is one of the newer conservation tools profiled at the WPC (it was rolled out in 2013). I was lucky enough to contribute as part of the F&ES team that assisted the SMART Partnership with promotion and software demonstrations during the congress.

A packed crowd listening to the SMART demonstration in the WPC Protected Planet Pavillion. Photo by Tara Meyer

A packed crowd listening to the SMART demonstration in the WPC Protected Planet Pavillion. Photo by Tara Meyer

Anyone who has ever done field research is familiar with the challenges of data collection and management. Over time, technology has improved scientists’ ability to accurately record data point locations, and organize and manage detailed data records. But tracking progress and confusing or expensive software programs have contributed to the ineffectiveness of data collection and analysis, during and after ranger patrols. Enter SMART – a free software program designed to “measure, evaluate and improve the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols and site-based conservation activities.” (source: SMART website) How does it work? SMART is a software that allows rangers to record locations of poaching encounters, traps, and other key locations on GPS units, which are then uploaded into a computer and displayed on a map.

During the week-long World Parks Congress, I attended over a dozen different talks where SMART was mentioned as a tool for increasing ranger patrol effectiveness and improving data collection and management in protected areas. For such a new tool, I was amazed that it is already being used on the ground in so many places. The SMART Partnership (which includes the CITES Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program, Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Carolina Zoo, Panthera, Peace Parks Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF and Zoological Society of London) has been hard at work promoting SMART as an effective new tool for protecting wildlife.

Students meet with a practitioner from Belize at the WPC to discuss site projects which include SMART. Photo by Nicole Wooten

Students at the WPC talking with a practitioner from Belize about on the ground project management including the use of SMART. Photo by Nicole Wooten

But how effective is SMART? The WPC also highlighted the need to conduct evaluations of tools such as SMART, to better understand the extent of their effectiveness at both the protected area and country scale. Case studies of current projects (like this one in Belize) would help provide information about how successful adaptive management and ranger patrol performances are (or aren’t) improving biodiversity and meeting key conservation targets. Answers to these questions will help the future users of SMART and other similar software programs improve site-based management and protected area governance.

With new instruments like SMART, strong partnerships between conservation organizations working towards shared goals, input from field case studies and real probing into the effectiveness of technology and on the ground management, I see a hopeful future for the conservation of wildlife in protected areas.