Upcycled smartphones installed in Indonesia to fight illegal logging and poaching

2 September 2019

After a number of successful installations of sound monitoring devices  in tree tops to protect forests around the world – for example in Peru- Topher White and his team have now ventured into Indonesia to help protect community forests against illegal logging, mining and poaching activities.

Indonesia’s ‘social forestry scheme’ is allowing an increasing number of local communities to regain ownership over the forests in their vicinity. Also in West Sumatra the number of community forests has increased over the past few years. Involving people in the protection and management of forests is assumed to be beneficial to both the community and the environment. Caspar Verwer, Senior Expert Nature Conservation at IUCN NL, explains: “Although there is more sense of ownership and social control in these community forests, illegal activities, like logging and mining, still occur. This is particularly the case in large forest areas that are hard to continuously monitor on the ground.”

Acoustic monitoring

After conversations with local village forest management groups and forest patrol teams in the field, Verwer decided to bring in the technical expertise of Topher White’s organization Rainforest Connection, whose acoustic monitoring system might solve the problem. The so called RFCx Guardians, which are basically solar-powered upcycled smartphones, are placed high up in the trees and can be used as listening devices against poachers and illegal loggers. These devices have already been successfully installed by Rainforest Connection in a number of countries. With support from IUCN NL, they will now also serve the protection of vulnerable community forests in West Sumatra.

Training rangers to use the equipment

During their visit, the Rainforest Connection team – with the great guidance of IUCN NL’s partner organization KKI WARSI - covered four villages, where they installed three listening devices per community. They also made sure local rangers will be able to implement the system, by training them on how to use the phones and the web application that allows for advanced monitoring of the forest.

Effectively protecting large areas of forest

The RFCx Guardians have a microphone to register sounds. If they detect a suspicious sound, such as a chainsaw, the phone will send a real-time alert to the forest rangers. They can then come on site and intervene immediately. This is especially effective for the large areas of forest that are managed by the Indonesian communities, as the long distances that they have to cover make it impossible to constantly monitor the entire forest. “By placing the devices at strategic locations, for example near entrance roads or rivers, the system can effectively cover large areas of forest,” Verwer adds.

Evidence

Not only does the audio allow for more widespread monitoring, it can also serve as evidence in court cases against illegal loggers. In this way, rangers in the community forests can work together with local law enforcement to combat illegal activities on their land.

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Update 12 september 2019

The first illegal loggers have been caught in the act. The loggers were stopped in Sirukam Village Forest and evidence has been collected by the patrol team.

Curious what it sounds like?

Audio fragment of chainsaw captured by Rfcx:

Audio fragment of chainsaw and motor captured by Rfcx:

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