As the last semester of college rushed by, my prospects after graduation looked increasingly grim. It seemed like I was way under-qualified for just about everything I wanted to do. Luckily, as I learned while serving as co-president of Colorado College Tigers for Tigers, it only takes a few small connections to get involved with something truly remarkable.
When I saw that Dr. Eric Dinerstein was attending the national summit meeting, I was ecstatic. Not only is he a well-known and respected conservationist, but I had just written a thesis partially inspired by his work in Nepal with human-tiger conflict. As soon as the conference started, I made it a point to talk to him throughout each day, and try and absorb all of his insights. After learning about the new project he was starting at the non-profit RESOLVE, I felt compelled to keep in contact with him after the conference. Then, the week before graduation, he offered me an internship working in D.C. on his new project and I jumped at the opportunity.
Eric’s new program is set to focus on finding new and enduring solutions for conserving the earth’s rapidly decreasing biodiversity. This will largely be done through an incredible collaboration between conservation biologists and technical experts. Currently, the main project here seeks to utilize existing and emerging technologies by apply them to conservation, and make these solutions accessible (read affordable) to scientists, park rangers, and stakeholders.
This includes new advances in hidden camera traps to help monitor wildlife populations and identify poachers through facial recognition software, to low-cost animal trackers which make it easier than ever for scientists to conduct large-mammal research and tracking.
Other initiatives in the works include a joint project with World Resources Institute to map forest loss in biodiversity hotspots and utilize this information to delineate zones of extreme conservation importance to better assist land managers in delineating development areas. Because all the projects are still in the preliminary stages, it’s an incredible opportunity to witness firsthand how conservation programs begin.
As an example of a new and exciting project we are beginning to test, we are trying to use a quadcopter drone to pester elephants and move them away from crop fields to reduce human-wildlife conflict. Similar drones are being used by Marc Goss, a researcher in Maasai Mara reserve, Kenya, to keep elephants out of high poaching zones. It’s thought that the elephants are scared by the sound of the drone’s propellers, which sound an awful lot like a swarm of angry bees. However, in an effort to prevent elephants (who are incredibly intelligent) from habituating to this strategy, we are attempting to combine this with the use of chili powder, which is already used as an elephant deterrent around Africa. I was lucky enough to help test the set up here in D.C., and we are hoping to test it in the field to see how the elephants respond soon.
If there is one thing to take away from your time with Tigers for Tigers (besides the fact that you’re helping save tigers!), it is that this club sets every member up with an extensive network of non-profit and research contacts that you can use to continue pursuing your passion for conservation and wildlife biology.