Today, EarthRanger, a program of the Allen Institute for AI (AI2), announced the grantees of the 2023 Conservation Technology Award: Mount Kenya Trust and Conservation X Labs. The Conservation Technology Award honors organizations deploying or developing technology to make a positive impact in conservation management. Mount Kenya Trust and Conservation X Labs will each receive a $15,000 grant to further their missions and amplify their conservation impact. Now in its third year, the 2023 grantees will bring the total amount given through the award program to almost $100,000.
“Organizational adoption of conservation technology requires commitment, hard work, and a creative vision," said Jes Lefcourt, AI2’s Senior Director of Conservation Technology. "We believe that the teams who undertake these efforts to achieve meaningful outcomes and inspire others deserve recognition and celebration."
Through the Conservation Technology Award, EarthRanger hopes to advance the way technology can be scaled and celebrate the impact of these innovative and committed conservation organizations. Mount Kenya Trust and Conservation X Labs are both leading with impact.
Mount Kenya Trust
Mount Kenya Trust takes a holistic approach to conserving and safeguarding Mount Kenya – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that holds cultural and environmental significance in the country. The organization’s Junior Ranger Program (JRP) is an education conservation program helping to build the next generation of conservationists and instill values about the importance of the area's diverse ecosystem.
Through a digital curriculum that utilizes projectors, games, role-playing, and field visits, JRP has helped children in the area completely shift their perspective on the ecosystem and the importance of conservation, learning the value of wildlife, their habitats, and the rangers that protect them. Prior to JRP, 95% of students expressed negative views on wildlife and conservation, but the program flipped this statistic, with 90% of students expressing enthusiasm for protecting the Mount Kenya ecosystem after completing it.
"What I found incredible is the creative delivery of the program, which nurtures young conservation ambassadors while simultaneously exposing them to the digital world," said Conservation Technology Award judge and founder of ConTech Africa, Alina Peter Daati. "In Swahili we have a saying, ‘samaki mkunje angali mbichi’ meaning ‘teach them young,’ and this program is a prime representation of that."
The pilot JRP program was a huge success, reaching over 1,110 students from 12 schools. With the grant funds from the Conservation Technology Award, Mount Kenya Trust plans to expand to 15 schools and 1,500 students per year. The organization also plans to incorporate digital literacy into their curriculum, using conservation as an innovative way to teach valuable digital skills that will set students up for success in the future.
Conservation X Labs
Conservation X Labs is bringing the power of AI to the hands of conservationists to help them respond to some of the most pressing challenges they face, including poaching and wildlife trafficking, invasive species, and zoonotic diseases, which require swift action to address. Conservation X Labs has developed The Sentinel, a smart camera that uses edge AI to provide conservationists with real-time information on events in the wild and the ability to respond quickly to these threats. The smart camera runs small, custom AI models that specifically address user concerns, such as detecting an endangered species of interest, allowing conservationists to take immediate action.
AI tools have typically been out of reach for conservationists because they are expensive, highly technical, and require extensive training to use. Sentinel was purposefully designed to be accessible, quick, and intuitive, allowing non-technical users to leverage AI technologies with a powerful platform that does not require coding knowledge.
“I was so impressed by the Sentinel because of its ability to enable rapid response by providing evidence and science-based decision tools for conservationists in the field,” said Conservation Technology Award judge Neil Aldrin Mallari of the Center for Conservation Innovation. “This is an extremely difficult, yet important, undertaking, and Conservation X Labs has created an end-to-end tech solution that offers conservationists a complete package.”
With the grant funds, Conservation X Labs will continue to scale across the globe and work to reduce the data-to-action timeline from months to minutes. The organization also plans to progress from small batch to large scale production of Sentinel smart cameras, driving down the overall cost and further democratizing access to this technology.
A Historic Year
2023 was our most competitive judging process to date – EarthRanger received wide-ranging applications from Algeria and Australia to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal. These diverse organizations across the globe are tackling a number of conservation challenges through innovative solutions, ranging from protecting kelp forests with eDNA and an interactive bird migration map showcasing the journeys of 10,000 birds and to an Eye in the Sky system aimed at protecting Africa’s most vulnerable and threatened vultures.
The Conservation Technology Award also wants to recognize six organizations that received honorable mentions this year:
- Endangered Wildlife Trust
- Langland Conservation
- National Audubon Society
- SEE Turtles
Building technology for conservation is uniquely challenging. Organizations are faced with extreme environments, unusual requirements, and tricky business models, just to name a few. EarthRanger applauds the teams who, driven by their passion for wildlife, take on and overcome these challenges. Thank you to the winners and all of the applicants to the 2023 Conservation Technology Award for their service to our shared cause. These organizations inspire the entire conservation community with their tenacity and demonstrate how technology can be employed to protect wildlife and wild places.
To learn more about past winners and see how they are advancing conservation missions, see here.