Saving Species With Sound: Anti-Poaching Project From Panthera is Saving Jaguars in Central America

By monitoring gunshots, barking dogs and conversations, acoustic technology initiative is helping wildlife authorities focus limited patrolling personnel and curtail poachers.


February 2, 2021


Media Contact: Susie Weller Sheppard, sweller@panthera.org, 347-446-9904

New York, NY - A group of poachers was apprehended in Honduras this past summer with the help of an unlikely tool: an initiative that records forest sounds to help wildlife authorities re-focus limited ranger patrols to more effectively track and curtail poachers.

Launched in 2017 by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the program has set up acoustic monitoring units throughout Honduras’s Cusuco, Jeannette Kawas and Pico Bonito National Parks and Guatemala’s Sierra Caral National Protected Area, where poaching is one of the jaguar’s greatest threats.

The recording units, specially made by the Cornell Bioacoustics Program and fit to support tropical weather conditions, are capable of capturing the sound of gunshots within a one-kilometer radius; at shorter distances, barking dogs and conversations of poachers can be registered. The sound data are then analyzed by RAVEN, an AI software program, to identify when and where poachers are most active, and wildlife ranger patrols are assigned accordingly.

Along with pinpointing popular illegal hunting hotspots, the data have revealed that poachers are most active on weekends when the moon is not visible, and before and during local festivals and holidays. By assigning more patrols on weekends, authorities were able to detain three poachers in Jeannette Kawas National Park in August 2020, fine them and confiscate their guns. Guards have also been able to destroy camps and other structures used by poachers, as well as deter potential poachers by using more powerful flashlights to make themselves visible from afar.

The technology offers a more cost-effective alternative to the widely-used camera trap, which is activated by movement and can only capture activity at a close range within the camera’s sightline. The acoustic monitoring units are less expensive, record continuously and detect activity within a 360-degree radius. Whereas it would take humans months to manually listen to and map the recordings, the RAVEN AI software can analyze the acoustic data within hours.

Panthera’s Jaguar Program Honduras Country Director, Franklin Castañeda, stated, “Innovation is key to outsmarting wildlife poachers armed with ever-evolving tactics and an endless supply of troops. With this in mind, our acoustic monitoring project has enabled us to deploy wildlife patrols in the areas and at the precise times of day and week where illegal activity is most expected.”

Castañeda continued, “We are encouraged to already see the success of this tool play out, with our patrols having stopped poachers in their tracks before they could strike and having recorded a sharp decline in poacher activity where our rangers are active.”

The initial study of the program has shown that increases in patrol efforts have been accompanied by decreases in poaching signs - including blinds, camps, bullet shells and animal parts - observed in month-to-month comparisons between 2015 and 2020. In the first years of patrolling Cusuco National Park, rangers registered an average of 5 poaching signs per 100 kilometers patrolled, compared to 1.9 signs per 100 kilometers after implementation of the acoustic monitoring project.

Panthera’s Jaguar Program Guatemala Coordinator, Barbara Escobar, stated, “Along with our initiative’s impressive advances in stemming poaching, it is also literally bridging borders to protect jaguars, serving as the first binational project that uses acoustic technology for the conservation of jaguars and their habitat.”

Escobar continued, “Before the launch of this project, conservationists within Honduras and Guatemala didn’t always communicate. Now they have a better opportunity to meet and exchange experiences — all with the end goal of creating a world in which jaguars live on forever, free from borders.”

Supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and private dairy company Lacteos de Honduras - LACTHOSA, this acoustic monitoring initiative is the latest tool in Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative -- an ambitious conservation program that seeks to preserve the genetic integrity of jaguars by protecting them across their entire six million square kilometer range from Mexico to Argentina.  


About Panthera
Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts, and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, and tigers and their vast landscapes. In 39 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.


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