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MBZ Blog

Evolution of conservation: A 14-year journey unveiling the transformative impact of technology

In June, 14 years ago, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund pledged its allegiance to conservation globally by funding 22 projects. One of these projects was for a young man from Egypt looking to protect the Egyptian tortoise. It was very fitting that Basem Motwale Rabia was again granted funding for the same species during the last round of funding in 2023.  We caught up with him to find out how conservation has changed over the past decade.


EDITOR How many grants did you receive from the Fund and when?

BASEM RABIA  After receiving funding from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Foundation in 2009, I have not sought or received any further support. In fact, since my initial application to the MBZ Conservation Fund, I have not requested assistance until recently, when I identified the need for support in undertaking upcoming conservation efforts with the critically endangered Egyptian tortoise species.

ED Has the Funds support changed or impacted your life, if yes how?

BR Yes, the Funds support has significantly impacted my professional and academic life. The financial assistance provided by the Fund has been instrumental in advancing my research on the critically endangered Egyptian tortoise, specifically focusing on photo identification, and implementing comprehensive conservation measures. This support has facilitated crucial aspects of my work, including fieldwork, data collection, and community engagement. the Fund’s support has played a transformative role in enabling me to make meaningful contributions to the conservation of the Egyptian tortoise and its ecosystem. It has not only impacted my professional endeavors but has also contributed to the broader goal of ensuring the long-term survival of this critically endangered species.

ED Do you think technology has a role to play in conservation and how?

BR Technology plays a pivotal role in contemporary conservation efforts, offering innovative solutions to complex challenges. Satellite imagery, drones, and camera traps provide real-time monitoring and surveillance, aiding in the protection of habitats and endangered species. Advanced data collection tools, such as GIS software and remote sensing technologies, enable scientists to analyse ecological data efficiently, guiding informed decision-making. Genetic technologies contribute to understanding and preserving the genetic diversity of species, while communication platforms and mobile apps enhance public awareness and engagement. Additionally, technology facilitates smart enforcement against illegal activities, empowers local communities through citizen science initiatives, and supports climate modeling for adaptive conservation strategies.

ED How are you incorporating technology into any of your current projects?

BR In our ongoing conservation project focused on the critically endangered Egyptian tortoise, we are actively incorporating technology, particularly through the utilisation of photo identification software. The primary objective is to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of tortoise identification. To achieve this, our initial step involves testing and evaluating which parts of the tortoise, such as unique markings or patterns, are most reliable for identification purposes. Once this testing phase is complete, we plan to implement photo identification software to streamline the identification process. This technology will enable us to identify individual tortoises from photographs, allowing for precise monitoring and tracking of the population over time. Furthermore, we aim to leverage the same technology to assess the age of the tortoises based on identifiable features in the photos. By integrating photo identification software, we anticipate not only improving the accuracy of our monitoring efforts but also gaining valuable insights into the age structure of the Egyptian tortoise population, contributing to more informed conservation strategies.

ED Are there any processes or procedures you struggled with 14 years ago that have been simplified using technology?

BR Fourteen years ago, our conservation efforts faced significant challenges in processes such as mark-recapture analysis and multistate modeling. However, with the integration of technology, particularly advancements in software and analytical tools, these challenges have been notably simplified. The adoption of specialised mark-recapture software has streamlined the estimation of population parameters, such as survival and detection probabilities for the Egyptian tortoise. This software has automated complex calculations and improved the accuracy and efficiency of our monitoring programs. Additionally, the utilisation of Bayesian modeling techniques, specifically through JAGS (Just Another Gibbs Sampler) and NIMBLE (Numerical Inference for Marginal Bayesian Likelihoods), has allowed for more sophisticated and precise analyses. These tools enhance our ability to estimate survival rates and assess the impact of various factors on the population dynamics of the Egyptian tortoise. In terms of spatial analysis, the integration of advanced GIS (Geographic Information System) technology has revolutionised our landscape analysis capabilities. We can now conduct in-depth assessments of habitat changes, migration patterns, and the impact of human activities on tortoise habitats with greater accuracy and detail. The use of R, a programming language and software environment for statistical computing, has become instrumental in analysing and visualising data, providing more flexibility and customisation in our research. In the upcoming semester, we are planning to integrate photogrammetry analysis into our conservation efforts for the Egyptian tortoise. Photogrammetry, as a technology, involves extracting detailed three-dimensional information from two-dimensional images. This approach will be particularly valuable for assessing the topography and structural characteristics of the tortoise habitats, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape. Additionally, we are actively seeking collaboration and participation in remote sensing and photogrammetry initiatives. Engaging with experts and researchers in these fields will allow us to leverage cutting-edge technologies for mapping and monitoring tortoise habitats. Remote sensing can provide valuable data on land cover changes, vegetation health, and other critical factors influencing the tortoise population. By incorporating photogrammetry and engaging in remote sensing collaborations, we aim to enhance the precision and scope of our research, ultimately contributing to more effective conservation strategies for the Egyptian tortoise. This collaborative approach embraces technological advancements to better understand and protect the habitats essential for the survival of this critically endangered species.

ED Can you think of any amazing conservation projects that use technology?

BR One inspiring conservation project that utilizes technology is the application of photo identification for the endemic Savigny’s agama lizard species (Trapelus savignii) in North Sinai. To the best of my knowledge, no prior studies have been conducted on this unique species in the Sinai Peninsula, making this project particularly crucial for understanding its behavior and population dynamics. The use of photo identification techniques will enable precise individual recognition, contributing to comprehensive population assessments and ecological studies. Additionally, I am passionate about studying the offspring of the Egyptian tortoise, a species facing critical endangerment. My approach involves leveraging radio telemetry techniques to track and monitor the movements and behavior of juvenile tortoises. This technological application will offer valuable insights into the habitat preferences and survival patterns of the younger population, aiding in the development of targeted conservation strategies. These innovative uses of technology underscore the potential for advancements in conservation efforts, particularly in regions with limited existing research. By integrating photo identification and radio telemetry, these projects aim to contribute significantly to the understanding and preservation of these unique and endangered species in North Sinai.

ED That was very insightful, thank you for your time and we’re glad our paths crossed once again.

BR Thank you, me too