Protecting Colombia's Biodiversity with Guardians of the Jungle
With more than 50,000 species of fauna and flora and 31 million hectares of protected ecosystems covering 15% of its national territory, Colombia boasts the second highest rate of biodiversity in the world. And with almost 2,000 bird species, the South American nation is home to the richest array of avian life on the planet.
A rich and varied geography
Located in the center of the country, the Magdalena Medio region is a strategic wildlife corridor. The Wildlife Conservation Society reports that the area is home to 4,000 species of vascular plants (with seeds and ferns) and at least 150 species of mammals, 630 species of birds, 120 species of reptiles, 50 species of amphibians, and 120 species of fish. Many of these are endemic to the region's highly diverse ecosystem, where forests in the south gradually transition into lush rainforest. And thanks to the Magdalena River, multiple aquatic ecosystems and marshes can be found along the great river's banks. The region's 69 wetlands are rich in bird life, including migratory species that head south during the North American winter in search of a hotter climate.
Diversity at risk
Moreover, researchers and the local community have identified 41 different species of trees in Magdalena Medio, corresponding to 24 different families.
But the high commercial value these trees offer the timber market has contributed to the destruction or degradation of 90% of the region's forest cover. Moreover, Magdalena Medio is rich in oil and ripe for agriculture, creating additional pressures that make it extremely vulnerable and complicate the drive for conservation.
To prevent deforestation, protect biodiversity, and help restore what has been lost, the use of technology is pivotal to detecting threats and guiding conservation measures based on a more complete understanding of the ecosystem.
How does that work in practice?
Guardians in the trees
Developed by TECH4ALL partner Rainforest Connection, Guardian devices are solar-powered audio monitoring devices deployed high in tree canopies where they cannot be seen. Each device can detect the sounds of threats in real time, such as the gunshots of poachers and the chainsaws and trucks used by illegal loggers.
Working 24/7, a single Guardian can cover an area of 7km2. The audio data collected is sent to a cloud platform over a communications network, where it is analyzed by AI trained to detect certain sounds. In the case of a threat, rangers can be alerted via a phone app that enables them to intervene in near real-time.
In Colombia, the Guardian of the Jungle project kicked off in August 2022, with the first of ten online Guardians installed.
In conjunction with ten Guardian devices, 100 offline AudioMoth devices will be deployed to collect the vocalizations of different animals, which will in turn deliver insights into the behaviors, distribution, and movements of target species, like the critically endangered blue-billed curassow.
The data collected will be also be used to guide the conservation of pan-American corridors and the migratory and endangered species that use them.
It will also paint a more complete picture of the ecosystem as a whole, enabling precise and targeted conservation and retoration measures. The 18-month project aims to cover approximately 100,000 hectares in 15 strategic locations in Magdalena Medio.
acoustic monitoring devices
Partnerships for conservation
Bringing together a wide range of expertise and local knowledge, the Jungle Guardian project is the culmination of a partnership between Humboldt Institute, Rainforest Connection, BioDiversa Foundation, O2 Reserve, and Huawei. Biodiversa Foundation Colombia, for example, has been working in the region for more than 13 years, bringing invaluable insights into local conservation needs.
Project development has also involved the local community, including training days for people from the community alongside researchers. As a result, local people are encouraged to become protectors of the area and prioritize economic activities that do not undermine biodiversity.
The work carried out in Colombia has also been implemented in other countries. Huawei and Rainforest Connection (RFCX) joined forces in 2019 and since then, Guardian systems have been implemented in rainforests, mountains, wetlands, and oceans on a global scale.