How two technologists are helping foresters fight wildlife crime with technology

With growing modernization and increasing population, the line between civilization and wild is becoming increasingly blurred. Often, humans are known to encroach on areas designated for forests.

This human-animal conflict has raised issues around the world. In a country like India, which is home to some of the rarest animals on the planet, with 24 percent forest cover, the rate of wildlife crime is alarming.

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If we look back to our ancestors, we know that committing atrocities on innocent wild animals was a game for humans. Whether hunting them for pleasure or exploiting their skin, teeth and bones for our benefit, we have been exploiting them for years.

Despite government enforcement of rules and laws to protect wildlife, incidents of wildlife crime are alarmingly high. A step Report By the HinduMore than 1,000 cases of wildlife crime have been registered in 2020 alone. A Report By Indian Express In 2023, Tamil Nadu reported 150 wildlife crimes, while Karnataka reported 70 wildlife crimes and 17 poaching incidents.

The question remains as to why wildlife crime is on the rise despite the existence of a judicial system for such crimes. Faced with similar concerns, two technocrats from Kerala, Alan Shaji and Chopin Mathew, combined their technical expertise and passion for forests to digitally document wildlife crime in India. It not only eliminates bureaucracy and paperwork but also speeds up the delivery of justice.

Fighting wildlife crime with technology

Born and brought up in Kerala, Alan and Chopin are college mates who graduated from Amalguri College of Engineering in 2016.

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“Like other engineering graduates, we were looking for job opportunities. I was hired by a company and waited for the offer letter in 2016 when I realized I didn’t want to do a job,” says Allen. Great India.

Chopin Mathew and Alan Shaji, co-founders of Leopard Tech Labs.
Chopin Mathew and Alan Shaji, co-founders of Leopard Tech Labs. Image credit: Leopard Tech Labs

During this time, he met some conservationists who inspired him in wildlife conservation. „While most techies are busy looking for jobs and getting packages, I realized that wildlife conservation is something that no one really talks about,” she says.

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„At that time, technicians were not involved in security and the technology in this field was very limited. When we had a chance to interact with the security guards, they mentioned the lack of specific software tools. Everything relied heavily on paper work, which prompted us to think about introducing innovations in the security sector.

He continues, “I realized how there was a gap in the market. India has almost zero technology to monitor any kind of wildlife crime. So I decided to join hands with my friend Chopin who has similar interests to bridge this gap.

At the time, both were looking to break into the field, “We were looking for opportunities in this field and trying to reach out to different defenders. We met Mr. Jose Lui from our town. He is from the Wildlife Trust of India and he helped us secure our first project with them. The project, named Mapper, marked the beginning of our collaboration. After successfully completing this project, we realized that our ideas had more potential,” he says.

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In 2017, they incorporated a company called 'Leopard Tech Labs’. Currently, they have launched several products to help fight wildlife crime and have a customer base in eight countries. They also report working with various state governments in India.

’Hawk’ for speedy justice

After incorporating their company, Alan and Chopin started working as consultant software developers for the Wildlife Trust of India. It was during this period that they took the opportunity to collaborate with the Kerala Forest Department.

„With the support of the Wildlife Trust of India and their support, our company was able to develop the HAWK or Hostile Activity Watch kernel in collaboration with the Kerala forest department,” he says.

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In 2023, 150 wildlife crimes were reported in Tamil Nadu, while 70 wildlife crimes and 17 poaching incidents were reported in Karnataka.

Kerala Forest Department or most forest departments in the country rely heavily on manual recording of offenses and cases. Kerala Forest Department has now shifted to digital documentation process.

„HAWK is a crime management system that includes case handling, court case monitoring, communication management and wildlife mortality monitoring. This module covers various functions,” he explains, adding, „Before its implementation, all processes were managed through paperwork. With the software, Users enter data, and the system automatically generates reports in PDF-like formats, ready for submission to court.

The company has developed an analytics module along with a communication module. For example, if a question arises in Parliament about the number of wildlife deaths in Kerala from January 1 to February. The system provides the required data with a single click and enables efficient analysis within seconds.

Explaining how the software works, Allen says, “Users can quickly retrieve data on specific wildlife incidents, such as electrocuted elephants or poached tigers. The system provides data in formats like Excel, PDF, graphs and Google Maps, providing insights into the geographical distribution of incidents.

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In addition, it allows higher officials to monitor the status of cases pending or presented in court at the range or division level. This function streamlines review meetings, facilitates prompt action based on case progress and provides speedy justice.

For this data, the company collaborates with various NGOs and government agencies. Currently, they are working with NGOs like IUCN, IFaw, WTI, Kerala Forest Department, Tamil Nadu Forest Department, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve and Species Survival Commission (SSC).

Apart from HAWK, the company also has several other products like SARPA – Snake Awareness, Rescue and Protection Application, Jumbo Radar – a comprehensive tool to track elephants outside protected areas, WildWatch – an integrated human-wildlife conflict mitigation and early warning system and many more. Further

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HAWK is a crime management system that handles cases and monitors court cases and wildlife deaths.

„In the field of wildlife and human-animal conflicts, existing systems often rely on paperwork, resulting in a lack of detailed data. However, our system enables monitoring of cropping patterns over time, helping to identify periods with increased conflict,” he says.

By creating heat maps and analyzing data spanning five years, the agency can pinpoint specific times when conflicts peak. „This information allows for targeted interventions, such as advising villagers to relocate or change cropping practices, thereby mitigating conflicts and promoting coexistence,” he says.

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(Editing by Pranita Bhatt)

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