A man I interviewed in Uganda once informed me that "When we come together, we are united in one voice. We are stronger, we know more, and then together we can protect the forest."
I first decided to explore human attitudes towards primates because strong communication between humans is critical in protecting the great apes. And although my work focused on the exchange of information between conservation organizations and local communities, my work in Uganda helped me understand that communication should be just as strong within conservation bodies, too.
Mobile technologies, from simple cellphones to sophisticated smartphones, have the potential to seriously impact great ape conservation in-situ by strengthening communication in the field. Providing conservation officials like park guards with state-of-the-art mobile technologies could facilitate co-operation, maximize efficiency, and create a constantly-updating system of information about the apes and their environment.
Especially with the advent of 'smartphone' technologies, the information that can be relayed through mobile technology is astounding. Forget measly cellphones - smartphones enable users to go beyond one-to-one conversation and create massive webs of information that multiple parties can access and modify simultaneously. By inputting GPS co-ordinates to a live map, officials could share the state of trails, and current ape locations/movement - cartographers would never sleep if officials wanted paper maps that up to date! By using smartphones to complete and share censuses/surveys, referencing them in the field becomes easy - much easier than hunting down a hard copy.
Likewise, if an official encounters something remarkable in the field, it would take only seconds to communicate with his team with associated photographs, text, and videos. This information sharing would allow instantaneous, collaborative problem-solving to everyday situations. Imagine how this sort of illustrated, continuous dialogue could facilitate things like snare removal programs!
Mobile technology could also improve the way protected areas are patrolled. Mapping programs that track guards' locations would let park guards more effectively arrange themselves to maximize the area being protected. Even beyond knowing which areas are already being patrolled and which are not, a quick message from the same device that holds the map would let others know that a critical area needs more attention, or that a colleague needs support somewhere.
Really, it boils down to the fact that mobile technologies can connect people and areas that would otherwise have no way to be in regular contact, and can unify bits of information into a complete picture. This collaboration and accessibility could allow conservation officials to consider a broader context to ape conservation: one that extends past park borders. During my own fieldwork, a man I was interviewing once informed me that "When we come together, we are united in one voice. We are stronger, we know more, and then together we can protect the forest." Although he wasn't talking about mobile technologies, what he said very much applies. The potential of mobile technology for great ape conservation is great, if for no other reason, than because it will help unify many voices into a single, cohesive web accessible from the palm of your hand.
Over and out, Em.