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Transforming Conservation Together: Highlights from the 2023 EarthRanger User Conference in Cape Town

Here are a few key insights from this year's event that we're carrying into the new year.

Last month, EarthRanger hosted its eighth annual EarthRanger User Conference, bringing some of the world's leading conservationists, technologists, and scientists to Cape Town, South Africa. With the overarching theme of "Transforming Conservation Together," this four-day event convened nearly 500 dedicated conservationists – ranging from protected area managers and government ministers to radio room operators and wildlife researchers – from over 250 organizations across 40 countries for a conversation about new and emerging conservation technologies and methodologies that are helping safeguard wildlife and people. This year's event showcased the various projects, visionary individuals, and groundbreaking technologies driving global conservation forward.

Presented in collaboration with the SMART Partnership and generously supported by Wildlife Protection Solutions (WPS), San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and Save Animals Facing Extinction, the 2023 EarthRanger User Conference featured over 70 sessions of immersive and diverse conversations among delegates. Over 200 speakers presented at the conference, including profound and inspirational keynote addresses by leaders such as Bennett Kahuure, Director of Parks and Wildlife for Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism; Monica Medina, Wildlife Conservation Society's CEO and President; Jean Labuschagne, African Parks' Director of Conservation Development; Antony Alexander, Program Manager with Peace Parks Foundation; Jes Lefcourt, EarthRanger's director; and Neddy Mulimo, a distinguished Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award recipient with nearly four decades of impact. Their talks highlighted the significance of conservation efforts across landscapes, technology's pivotal role, and the critical need for knowledge-sharing in addressing the intricate challenges facing our planet's biodiversity.

In addition to the widespread knowledge sharing and networking, conservationists deepened their collaboration across organizations, penning partnerships and forging new relationships that will advance the conservation field. From commitments to integrate technology into their operations to joining regional initiatives and launching communities of practice, the conference advanced countless strategic and tactical conversations that will strengthen global conservation.

Here are a few takeaways from the conference that we'll carry into the new year.

Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

First and foremost, the EarthRanger User Conference is about collaboration. It's one of the only conferences focused on creating a venue for conservation practitioners to learn from one another. With this at the heart of the event, delegates engaged in thought-provoking discussions around topics ranging from exploring how AI is transforming wildlife conservation to examining what needs to be developed to better protect rangers out in the field. These conversations were held in collaborative sessions throughout the event, continuing into nightly networking activities. 

Without this sense of community and transparency, realizing our shared mission of advancing conservation worldwide would be impossible. Stephen Chege, a wildlife veterinarian with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, emphasized this sentiment, "Collaboration brings in the power of synergies. Different organizations have different strengths, and by collaborating, one can reach higher heights within a short period of time. In Africa, we say if you want to run fast, run alone, but if you want to go far, move together with others." 

A Need to Scale Technology

With collaboration comes the critical need to scale technology. At this year's EarthRanger User Conference, two initiatives, Gundi and The Internet of Conservation, highlighted how the conservation technology community is starting to address this challenge.

Gundi is a free and open-source data integration platform built by EarthRanger, WPS, and WCS that seamlessly connects with any sensor and any application. Meaning “glue” in Swahili, Gundi acts as a universal adaptor, opening up a world of plug-and-play access to data from field hardware for conservationists. Taking its foundations from the success of Gundi, the Internet of Conservation was announced. Involving a consortium of organizations, the initiative aims to foster an ecosystem of tools that work together, enhance existing tools, and, in turn, enable innovation. This signifies a paradigm shift in the advancement of conservation technologies. Rather than working on independent projects and developing tailored one-of-a-kind applications, this approach nurtures a more interconnected and collaborative framework that prioritizes the conservation field first and foremost. 

For successfully scalable technology, we need to implement adaptable systems and employ flexible foundations that can evolve with changing needs. The progress of conservation technology is set to accelerate the efficiency and effectiveness of conservationists protecting wildlife. You can find the full conference sessions on Gundi and the Internet of Conservation on our YouTube channel to learn more.


Bridging Innovation and Conservation 

Amidst the cutting-edge technologies showcased, a resounding theme emerged, emphasizing that while technology is undeniably a cornerstone, its ultimate value lies in its role as a tool to enable effective conservation action. The conference highlighted the understanding that actual progress involves not just innovating for its own sake but translating these cutting-edge ideas into tangible, meaningful conservation efforts. Importantly, speakers underscored the significance of actively involving local communities in this transformative journey. They specifically highlighted that sustainable conservation requires the engagement and support of these communities, recognizing their unique insights, perspectives, and contributions. And while these endeavors are crucial, so is the work in measuring their impact to ensure meaningful and lasting change for both the environment and the communities involved.

Looking Ahead

Serving as a venue to facilitate networking and collaboration, the immediate outcomes from the conference have been vast and impactful. New partnerships and collaborations have emerged, amplifying the collective strength of conservation efforts worldwide. As we look to next year, we're inspired by the heightened spirit of collaboration we saw in Cape Town, knowing that the work presented is poised to transform conservation.