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Networking Nature

How Technology Is Transforming Conservation

Wired in the wild: an elephant with a tracking collar, Mozambique, November 2007. Jon Hrusa / Corbis

Conservation is for the first time beginning to operate at the pace and on the scale necessary to keep up with, and even get ahead of, the planet’s most intractable environmental challenges. New technologies have given conservationists abilities that would have seemed like super powers just a few years ago. We can now monitor entire ecosystems -- think of the Amazon rainforest -- in nearly real time, using remote sensors to map their three-dimensional structures; satellite communications to follow elusive creatures, such as the jaguar and the puma; and smartphones to report illegal logging.

Such innovations are revolutionizing conservation in two key ways: first, by revealing the state of the world in unprecedented detail and, second, by making available more data to more people in more places. Like most technologies, these carry serious, although manageable, risks: in the hands of poachers, location-tracking devices could prove devastating to the endangered

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