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Rainforest Connection (RFCx)

Non-profit tech startup building scalable, open-source solutions to poaching & illegal logging

Rainforest Connection develops and implements free, open source software and systems to help preserve rainforests. It was founded based on the conviction that producing real time data on the state of the tropical rainforest is essential to saving it from imminent destruction.

Rainforest Connection builds acoustic monitoring systems to protect rainforests from illegal deforestation, to halt animal poaching and to enable bio-acoustic monitoring. Its systems run on second-hand mobile phones transformed into solar-powered listening devices that enable real time alerts to be sent via SMS to local authorities if suspicious sounds are detected.

At the core of each device is an Android smartphone with an operating system that has been modified and geared toward resource management, internal analytics and power efficiency. The device has highly sensitive external microphones that can capture ambient sounds, like the sound of chainsaws, enabling immediate intervention from local authorities. The device can pinpoint the exact location the deforestation is taking place.

A specialized configuration of solar panels (designed to capitalize on the thin and short­ lived bands of sunlight that penetrate tree canopies) keep the devices powered and somewhat protected from the elements. Highly ­sensitive external microphones capture all ambient sound within 1km of the device (range is somewhat dependent on topography and forest type). Though the devices are mounted on tree trunks (and the microphones are thereby not entirely omnidirectional), the solar panel configuration is designed to reflect sounds originating from behind the tree toward the microphone, thereby giving each device a nearly omnidirectional range. The devices are intended to be autonomous in operation, capable of operating indefinitely in the field, with almost no physical maintenance. Once installed in a tree, they may be considered abandoned until planned removal at the end of their service life (the length of which cannot yet be confirmed, but is expected to be 1­2 years).

Illustration of how Rainforest Connection works

Implementations

Alto Mayo, Peru - Working in conjunction with Conservation International (CI) and Peruvian government rangers, Rainforest Connection is testing an acoustic alert system that listens for telltale indicators of deforestation (chainsaws) or animal poaching (motorcycles) – as well as for trucks and vehicles that indicate narco-trafficking.

Tembé Tribal Reserve, Northern Brazil - Rainforest Connection’s 2018/19 focus includes deploying and expanding the system to alert Tembé Rangers to indications of illegal logging (chainsaws), poaching (motorcycles), and smuggling (trucks/vehicles).  

Cerro Blanco, Ecuador - One of Ecuador’s most diverse rainforest preserves, Cerro Blanco lies in close proximity to the sprawling metropolis of Guayaquil. As a result, it faces threats from deforestation, poaching, and urban encroachment. In concert with Fundacíon Pro Bosque (FPB), Rainforest Connection has set up a system to monitor for illegal chainsaws and poaching in real-time. In addition to helping better protect 10,000 hectares of rainforest, their system also streams 1.8 gigabytes of data per day, giving scientists and conservationists a means of keeping track of endangered wildlife.

Cameroon - In partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and a local sustainable logging company named Rougier, Rainforest Connection set up an acoustic monitoring to demonstrate how their system could assist local park rangers in detecting unauthorized activities in protected areas that included the poaching of chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants and a host of other endangered birds.

Sumatra - Working in concert with the Kalaweit Supayang Gibbons Reserve, Rainforest Connection pioneered an acoustic monitoring system that could detect the sound of chainsaws in the cacophony of the jungle – and instantly alert park rangers to the source of the noise.

Founded and geography: Founded in the US, operating worldwide

Website: https://rfcx.org/home  

Twitter: @RainforestCx

Case study date: July 2018

Image: Kickstarter

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