‘Geospatial technology can dramatically simplify evaluation, planning and management of wildlife resources’

‘Geospatial technology can dramatically simplify evaluation, planning and management of wildlife resources’

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Dr. G. Areendran
Director- Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre & IT
WWF-India

India is home to one of the world’s most diverse wildlifes, which is, however, increasingly being threatened by climate change, habitat loss and human activities such as deforestation. In an exclusive interview with Geospatial World, Dr. G. Areendran explains how geospatial technology can contribute to planning and management of wildlife resources

What is the mandate and scope of activities of WWF India?
WWF-India”s goal is the protection of India’s ecological security through the following broad programme objectives:

  • Ensuring conservation of the country’s biodiversity,major ecosystems and critical landscapes.
  • Minimising wasteful consumption and promotionof sustainable and wise use of natural resources by all sectors of society
  • Promoting the active involvement of rural and traditional communities in the sustainable management and conservation of natural resources.
  • Working towards reduction in the sources and impacts of climate change.
  • Minimising pollution,reducing the use of toxic chemicals and ensuring improved management of toxic waste
  • Enhancing active participation of all sections of society in nature conservation and environmental protection through environmental education,awareness raising and capacity building
  • Ensuring that environmental principles are integrated into development planning,policy and practices
  • Promoting environmental governance through legislation,policy and advocacy

Wildlife is increasingly being threatened by climate change, habitat loss, and human activities such as deforestation. In such a scenario, how can geospatial technology help in wildlife management?
Geospatial technology can dramatically simplify evaluation, planning and management of wildlife resources. This technology is used to collect characterise, summarise, analyse, visualise and display spatial data. Satellite imaging features may incorporate specialized processing procedures which are used to analyse land cover and change detection using multi-temporal datasets, normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) classification and mapping, environmental analysis, urban development and monitoring wildlife corridor loss, habitat suitability assessment, critical habitat identification, predicting species distribution, home range analysis, tracking wildlife using satellite collars and monitoring their movements.

How is WWF India using various geospatial technologies in its various activities?
WWF-India supports biodiversity and natural resources conservation in India through collecting, managing, disseminating and making accessible, relevant data and knowledge, and by providing appropriate technical, analytical and networking services. Indira Gandhi Conservation Centre (IGCMC) extensively uses remote sensing and GIS for providing data on habitats and ecosystems in the country so that the requisite spatial information becomes available to resource managers and planners. As part of this exercise the IGCMC undertakes conservation based projects on important ecosystems including forests, wetlands, coastal zones, Himalayas etc. The centre is equipped with state-of-the-art hardware and software facilities to generate spatial databases as well as provide solutions for conservation planning.

Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre (IGCMC) extensively uses geospatial data related to habitats and ecosystems in the country. Which agencies do you source the geospatial data from?
IGCMC uses GIS data that provides information sets that can be used in GIS and spatial databases for purposes of geospatial analysis and mapping. Some of the data sources are NRSC, SOI, FSI, IUCN, WPA, WII, NATMO, State Forest Department, NASA, NOAA, ESRI, SRTM, GLCF, Google Earth, WWF-International, Global Wetlands.

 

In addition to remote sensing and GIS, technologies like LiDAR and UAVs are also gaining popularity for gathering geospatial data to be used in wildlife management. Are you exploring the options of use of such technologies?
LiDAR technology is yet to be explored. While WWF-India with WWF-International did a trial  run off UAV  in Kaziranga National Park for monitoring and management  of wildlife resource, but it could  not be  continued due to permission  issues with MOD.  

Poaching is one of the biggest issues facing wildlife management in India. Can geospatial technology address this issue?
Poaching cannot be directly addressed by geospatial technology. But,definitely technologies like GIS and GPS can be used to the study the crime. Crime mapping is quickly becoming a standard part of police practice and represents a novel way to combat a crime such as poaching. Because illegal hunting occurs in areas without street addresses, GPS technology is an alternative way to collect spatial data about criminal activity and produce maps that help guide ranger patrols and prevention efforts.

Can you tell us about some of the significant government investments and initiatives in India towards the use of geospatial technology in the wildlife sector?
Government of India has set up organisations which in particular deal with wildlife management. Many of these organisations, like Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and NTCA, have incorporated geospatial technologies as one of the important component of their organisation. Forest departments, under government of India, have also used satellite based GPS collars for monitoring of endangered species such as tigers, elephants, in the protected areas. Forest officers are well equipped with GPS device, which provides real time locations for essential forest management.

What are the future application areas for the use of geospatial technology in wildlife preservation and management?
Geospatial technology includes the suite of hardware and software tools and data associated with GPS, remote sensing and GIS. In recent years, the increased accessibility of these technologies has opened their application beyond the sole use by professionals and allowed dissemination into the field of wildlife management. Over time, the availability of better spatial data has made habitat evaluation and management more scientific and realistic. Today, wildlife is just confined to protected areas because of fragmentation of forests, which is resulting in genetic isolation of species. Geospatial technologies can be used to identify and map the corridors connecting protected areas, which could be later restored and conserved for the free movement of the wild.
Applications like long term monitoring of forests for wildlife preservation, multi-temporal analysis to map forest degradation, virtual fencing for protected areas  management, mapping of no-go areas for wildlife preservation, sustainable infrastructure development for better forest managementare some of the fields which will be emphasised in future.