Public invited to act as ‘virtual rangers’ to help protect wildlife using livestream

Samsung smartphones are being reused as surveillance cameras in a pilot project based on a South African wildlife reserve, with members of the public encouraged to help conservation efforts by acting as “virtual rangers”.

 As part of a pilot project (‘Wildlife Watch’) to protect endangered species from poachers, several recycled Samsung Galaxy S20 FE phones have been arranged through the Balule Nature Reserve, located in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Four phones are attached to the perimeter fences and one is attached to a camouflaged keep. They will livestream footage from within the reserve 24 hours a day.

Anyone can use the livestreams to look out for endangered species and see rangers at work, even under low light conditions. The nature reserve has a rich, well-protected ecosystem and its population includes the ‘Big Five’ game animals: lions; African bush elephants; African buffalos; African leopards, and black rhinoceroses. Among the fauna there are hundreds of types of birds (including the ground hornbill and the lappet-faced vulture) and over 30 types of mammal, including the zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, crocodile, hippo and cheetah.

Viewers can also become “virtual rangers” by alerting the Park’s official rangers if they see an animal in danger or signs of poaching. The project will initially run for two months, ending on May 2 this year.

Africam, a Cape Town-based organisation which installs cameras in remote locations to stream high-definition video for anyone to watch, partnered with Samsung on the scheme.

“As our lives have become more virtual, the power that technology has to bring people together to do something good and for the benefit of everyone has never been clearer,” said Mark Notton, senior director for mobile at Samsung Europe. “Wildlife Watch is a truly exciting pilot and by repurposing one of our latest handsets in this way, we hope increased eyes on these incredible animals will not only support existing surveillance and raise awareness, but bring pleasure by letting people see and learn more about wildlife from home.”

Wildlife Watch aims to raise awareness around poaching, which has surged during the coronavirus pandemic as hunters take advantage of the sudden drop in tourism. The scheme also supports the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit; an all-female unit which uses non-violent measures to counter poaching activity.

The Wildlife Watch livestream is available now.