Protecting Wildlife in Greece with a Shield of Sound
Over millennia, the Aoos River in northern Greece has carved a winding path through limestone into Aoos Gorge, creating a landscape of rare scenic beauty. The spectacular panorama is framed by the forested slopes of Mount Tymfi and Mount Smolikas, which in turn form part of the Vikos - Aoos UNESCO Global Geopark and the National Park of Northern Pindos. It's also one of Greece's largest roadless areas and home to a rich array of wildlife, including wolves, brown bears, and the symbol of the Pindos mountain range – the Balkan chamois.
But all in not well in this beautiful wilderness. The remote, rugged, and hard-to-access terrain isn't just popular with outdoor enthusiasts – there's also evidence that hunting within the gorge is on the rise, despite its designation as a wildlife game reserve. Limited human and financial resources means that anti-poaching activities are too infrequent and not far-reaching enough to serve as an effective deterrent for committed poachers, who typically hunt chamois when the herds descend from the steep cliffs to graze on the alpine meadows and within the beech forests.
The key to deterring poachers is to improve the impact of patrols. And the way to do that involves innovative technology. In January 2021, Rainforest Connection (RFCx), wildlife researchers from the Forest Research Institute (FRI), and Huawei Greece teamed up to deploy the TECH4ALL Guardian project to provide real-time, 24/7 monitoring of the chamois habitat using acoustic technology. Implemented for the first time in Greece, each RFCx Guardian sensor detects ambient sounds within a 3-km2 area, including the sounds of direct threats to wildlife: the gunshots of poachers and the chainsaws of illegal loggers.
The acoustic data is transmitted continuously over a GSM network, supported by Wind Hellas SIM cards and its data transfer solution. The data is stored on cloud platforms, and algorithms identify potential threats. If a gunshot or chainsaw is detected, a warning is sent to park rangers via a phone app, enabling an immediate response. As there are only a few trails leading in and out of the gorge, the interception rates and the solution's value as a deterrent will be high – even if poachers aren't caught immediately, the data collected can still provide vital evidence, increasing the chance of identifying perpetrators and securing a successful court prosecution.
The grid will also provide rich information on the Aoos gorge soundscape, which can be used for educational purposes at the park's information centers. The tough terrain of the Aoos gorge is the perfect showcase for the value of the Guardian system under extreme operating conditions like wind, cold, rain and snow, as well as extended overcast periods – the devices are usually fully solar-powered. In the first few months, the project has focused on training the algorithms to detect gunshots and chainsaws and determining the optimal power source for the Guardians.
As of mid-April 2021, 1,250 hours of acoustic scanning had detected five gunshots. While no arrests were made, news of the new "acoustic shield" for the chamois has reached local communities. The next steps will be fitting the acoustic grids with extra solar panels to ensure they can continue working uninterrupted and providing additional training for forest rangers.
hours of sound recorded in the first three months
The Deputy General Director of Forestry of the Ministry of Environment and Energy, Mr. Evangelos Goudoufas stated: "This TECH4ALL project can help protect endangered wildlife species in real time – the first project of its kind in our country."