Technology Boosts Conservation to Map Land Invasions in the Panamanian Rainforest

The Darien rainforest lies in quiet, splendid beauty along the border of Panama and Colombia. Its animal and plant cohabitants represent an extraordinary variety of wildlife, with species as diverse as jaguars and orchids. The natural diversity has provided a rich and magnificent home for the indigenous Wounaan and Embera communities for hundreds of years. Although the remoteness and impenetrability of the forest has long preserved the natural order of this unique ecosystem, recent and increasingly widespread invasions by loggers, poachers, and farmers threaten its sanctity.

Encroachment began in 1987, when foreigners began to illegally occupy indigenous land. To protest such invasions and demonstrate these threats to the authorities, indigenous communities attempted to map their territories. However, the inefficient methods and independent nature of the communities afforded them little progress.

With support in part from The Moore Charitable Foundation, the Rainforest Foundation and the national federation of indigenous peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) have designed a training program for indigenous mapping teams, who will aid the native rainforest communities. Armed with drones and software, the teams create documentation and 3D maps to accurately convey information and prepare evidence of invasion. Illegal deforestation, agricultural waste, and illegal settlements are all made visible by the technology and thus can be reported to the government. Furthermore, teams provide technical support for communities seeking defense of their lands and help to create land management plans to promote sustainable economic development.

This cooperative effort between indigenous peoples, the Rainforest Foundation, and COONAPIP highlights the increasingly important connection between conservation and technology. Preserving ancient traditions and the health of exceptionally diverse wildlife has always been a priority— yet, as these organizations have proven, tangible results are often achieved through the use of advanced technology like drones and 3D mapping. The proper use of technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach conservation. Read more here.

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