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‘FFI uses g-tech to conserve biodiversity’

Dr Ulrike Streicher DVM PhD
Programme Manager, Veterinarian
Vietnam Primate Programme
Fauna & Flora International

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is world”s first international conservation organisation. Dr Ulrike Streicher DVM PhD explains how FFI is exploiting geospatial tech.

Please brief us about goal of FFI and its services/projects in Asia Pacific region?
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was founded in 1903 and is the world”s first international conservation organisation. Our vision is a sustainable future for the planet, where biodiversity is effectively conserved by the people who live closest to it, supported by the global community. We have been working for more than a century on innovative approaches that inspire others and make a lasting impact on global biodiversity.

FFI operates more than 100 projects in 40 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eurasia and the Americas. We choose priority projects with a committed local partner and a critical need to save endangered wildlife and habitat and work to build the capacity of our local partners to conserve endangered species and threatened ecosystems. Headquartered in the UK, FFI is also a registered as a non-profit charitable organisation in the US and Australia. In the Asia-Pacific region, FFI works since 1935, when its members were involved in the creation of Hailey National Park in India. Fauna & Flora International now runs projects in Beijing, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Manila, Bogor, Medan, Sungai Penuh and Banda Aceh.

The Asia-Pacific region harbours incredible biological diversity and unique landscapes and is home to some of the planet’s most iconic species, such as the tiger, orang-utan and Asian elephant. Today the region’s wildlife and wild places face myriad and mounting threats. High human population densities and rapid economic growth combined with low levels of environmental control and widespread rural poverty place enormous pressure on the region’s biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources. FFI is working over a range of landscapes from the frozen highlands and deserts of the Tibetan Plateau through the temperate forests of Indochina to the tropical rainforests and reefs of Indonesia to help conserve some of the region’s most important species and habitats.

FFI”s programme in Vietnam was established in 1996, with headquarters in Hanoi, and is currently implemented by a team of approximately 20 staff, consultants, and volunteers. FFI works with local partners to develop landscape level conservation initiatives in protected areas and national parks, to support conservation programs for endangered primates and endangered plants, and to pilot projects on community forest and carbon pool management under a regional REDD initiative.

The strategic goal of the FFI-Vietnam Primate Program is to identify primate populations in most need of conservation interventions and provide strategic, locally-appropriate solutions, based on sound science and with the participation of local communities and stakeholders. The programme has established long-term primate-focused conservation projects at four locations in northern Vietnam with important populations of Critically Endangered primates–the Cao Vit gibbon, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and the western black crested gibbon.

When did FFI start using geospatial technology and why did they feel the need of such technology?
To do conservation well, we need good understanding. This includes good understanding of the places and species involved, and also of wider social, economic and political contexts. Our local partnerships provide us with essential on the ground knowledge of the issues and what will work in that context. At an organisational level FFI also draws experience from across its teams, and from wider sources of conservation expertise, to help inform and improve our work on the ground. FFI has been using geospatial technologies since GPS units have been commercially available and affordable. As most of FFI”s work is based initially on field surveys for endangered species and knowledge of their detailed occurrence the introduction of geospatial technologies facilitated field work considerably.

FFI has used geospatial technology in its several projects. Please share some of the most memorable experience when geospatial technology proved crucial.
FFI uses geospatial technologies in biodiversity monitoring particularly wildlife monitoring, and forest patrolling, but also for vegetation mapping in forest areas and land use mapping around protected areas and in buffer zones. Accurately mapping and equitably zoning landscapes in which natural resources are heavily exploited is an important step in developing a strategy to conserves biodiversity and provide benefits to local communities and businesses. One project in which FFI has used mapping to improve the management of wildlife sanctuaries is ‘Vegetation mapping in Phnom Samkos and Phnom Aural wildlife sanctuaries, Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia’.

The vegetation of the Cardamom Mountains is one of the treasures of Cambodia. Maps for two important protected areas, Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary and Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, were produced in ten days in June 2004. Ground-verification of maps was accomplished in five week in November and December 2004. Vegetation observations were recorded, and numerous plants were collected and photographed. A set of 15 ultra-rapid photographic transects were made, and the results were analysed to contribute to our understanding of floristic variation within evergreen forest. An overflight was undertaken to confirm the remote sensing interpretation. A vegetation map was then produced for both sanctuaries with four main classes: Montane Forest, Hill Evergreen Forest, Semi-deciduous Forest and Woodland. The extensive variation within these classes is discussed in this report and mapped, where possible. Finally, the expected botanical significance of the different zones is discussed, and recommendations are given for zoning choices.

In Vietnam, FFI has established community based patrolling teams in five protected areas and watershed protection forests in Northern Vietnam to support Vietnamese government’s forest protection forces in collecting data. In collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home (USFWS), FFI is currently introducing MIST (Management Information System) on these sites. The MIST is a custom-made tool for quickly analysing data collected by protected area patrol teams and presenting easily understandable results on which protected area managers and patrol teams can base decisions enabling them to focus their limited resources on the most immediate threats in the most appropriate locations. Once in place MIST allows to monitor patrol durations, routes, distances and all relevant incidents and maps all collected data on biodiversity and other patrolling incidents.

Geospatial technology helps us to monitor and protect populations of the critically endangered Siamese crocodile in Cambodia, where the largest known populations of this species occur, and to monitor and evaluate the success of our conservation interventions. FFI’s partner organisations use geospatial technologies to monitor groups of highly endangered primates after reintroduction. Did geospatial technology help in bridging the gap between business and biodiversity? If yes, please share some incidents. Geospatial technologies enable us to make business world understand how we work and conserve biodiversity. Does FFI provide training in geospatial tech? What are the capacity building activities of FFI, especially in geospatial tech? FFI provides basic training of map reading and compass use as well as train people in reading of GPS devices. It helps forces who are on patrolling.

What are geospatial tech–based upcoming projects/plans of FFI, especially for Asia Pacific region?
FFI Vietnam has recently received a grant from the USFWS Great Ape Conservation Fund to implement MIST-based patrolling in Mu Cang Chai and Muong La to improve conservation of the Western Black Crested Gibbon. The introduction of a MIST-based patrol system will improve the efficacy of the community conservation teams already operating in Mu Cang Chai and Muong La. FFI envisions to introduce MIST at all its project sites and expand the system of vegetation mapping in particular in areas where the forests are interspersed with agricultural areas e.g. in Quan Ba District in Ha Giang Province.

Financial constraints in the conservation sector hardly allow for geospatial techniques to be used at the degree it would be beneficial for conservation of species and habitats. A much stronger link between the business sector and conservation is required to optimise the use of currently available techniques in the projects established to maintain the globe’s biodiversity.