Saving elephants using smart technology

Hack the Poacher

Using smart technology to catch poachers in the field – sounds good right? Founder of Hack the Planet – Tim van Deursen – realised he could use the knowledge he had regarding smart technology to save wildlife. How? By creating devices that detect poachers. Together with Thijs Suijten he runs Hack the Poacher – helping organisations like Greenpeace and WWF with their knowledge and devices they create. We wanted to know more and got to ask Tim a few questions.


Tell us more about Hack the Poacher

Hack the Poacher is an initiative of Hack the Planet which is part of Q42, a technical software agency in The Hague and Amsterdam. With about 80 engineers we work on different kinds of projects for all sorts of clients like ESA, Philips, Adidas, Rijksmuseum and so on.

Q42 funded this entire operation to begin with. In 2016 we started the Hack the Planet initiative with the purpose to use our technical expertise and help solve our most pressing global challenges. The first project we did in 2016 was with Greenpeace. We build an autonomously flying drone to help in the struggle of illegal forest fires in Sumatra Indonesia.  At Hack the Planet we look at how we can solve a challenge as quickly as possible, so for this project we simply took a cheap glider plane and modified it to make it able to fly autonomously for about 1,5 hour.

Since then we have done many different projects. We even developed a Virtual Reality documentary where we brought two rivalling tribal leaders together (more on that at:

And then we have our anti-poaching project that is currently on top of our minds. We started this project in 2018 after a visit to Zambia. We learned about poaching and the complex dynamics surrounding this issue. We came up with a couple of concepts that could potentially help out and started working from there. Fast forward to our present day and we have a system ready for roll-out based on a smart camera trap and a mobile phone detector that we are currently testing.

What is the impact of poaching?

Poaching has a broad variety of negative consequences. People often think that the biggest impact is the killing and disappearance of animal species, but in fact it’s far more complex.  Because animals disappear in vast amounts, eco-systems are being disrupted resulting in an overall decline in biodiversity.  But it doesn’t stop there; poached animal parts are often traded on illegal wildlife markets resulting in the spread of diseases.


In what way does your smart technology help prevent poaching of rhinos and elephants?

We developed technology that focuses on providing more and better information to rangers that secure national parks. Basically you can think of it as an anti burglar system. Once a poacher enters an area, we catch them and alert rangers. To accomplish that, we developed a camera that can analyse what it sees, so it knows if a human is on a photo or an elephant. If the camera detects a human it can let a ranger know immediately using a satellite uplink. But the poacher might not walk by our camera, so we developed another system that is able to detect mobile phones. Poachers often use phones for many different purposes just like we do. Phones are an important tool to navigate with and to contact for help once they need to get out of the area with the poached animal (parts).



What are you most proud of so far?

The most challenging part of what we do is staying persistent and confident. What we are building is never done before, so we are finding ourselves in trouble all the time. Then you have to muddle through the difficulties whether they are software related or process/financial related.
I’m mostly proud of the people we work with and especially Q42 for making things like this possible. Imagine if all companies and technical agencies would take this level of responsibility; imagine what we can accomplish!
I truly hope that more companies will follow this example.

Hack the Planet aims to help organisations like Greenpeace & WWF.
How can someone reading this help Hack the Poacher?

We always love to hear from people and find out about their skills and interests. It’s very valuable to share ideas and connect with many people and organisations; this is the key to mobilise expertise into areas where we need to change things before it’s too late. Poaching is just one example of many where we need people to step in and start to critically look at what’s currently being done on the particular subject. In many cases you’ll find that there is too much room for improvements to make. If you find it, make it your own… make it your itch and start looking into what you can do to turn it around. In my opinion this is the only way we can solve the big challenges we are facing.

* Club Kakatua is raising money for Hack the Poacher! Want to donate? Do it right here!



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Pics – Hack the Poacher. Pic homepage Pexels
December 2020