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Future-shaping projects

Saving wild buffaloes in Canada means saving biodiversity and water

How a data scientist is protecting buffalo habitats

Remote sensing technology is helping to safeguard endangered buffalo in Northern Alberta.

When Alex De Spiegeleer first saw a map showing the amount of natural habitat in Canada ravaged by forest fires and logging, he was shocked.

“I really didn’t think it would be that much,” he says. “You often hear about hundreds or thousands of hectares burning, but it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend the scale of it. But when you see an actual map of what has happened over the past 30 or 40 years, across a country the size of Canada, it’s crazy. And when you think about the potential damage that could happen in the coming years because of climate change, the future doesn’t look so good.”

Alex, who is from Belgium and now based in Sweden, is a data scientist with Sogeti, part of Capgemini. His passion for protecting wildlife and natural habitats is reflected in many of the projects on which he has worked.

They include monitoring the damage to forests by natural pests such as the spruce bark beetle and using remote sensing to survey vegetation on the seabed along the length of the Swedish coast.

“I’ve also worked with satellite technology before, measuring plasma around the Earth,” he says. “It’s always good to know that when we are working at the cutting edge of technology, using AI and data from satellites, we can be doing something good for the world.”

Saving threatened animals

Alex’s latest project used data to map the impacts of wildfire and logging activity across the natural habitats of Northern Alberta, Canada.

Alex and the team from Sogeti worked with ShagowAskee, a group of Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, and trappers from the region who know firsthand the cumulative impact wildfires and logging have on critical wood buffalo habitat.

The project had a specific and urgent goal: to provide a detailed and accurate map of the current state of Northern Alberta’s natural habitats, in order to protect a culturally significant herd of endangered wood buffalo and the land they need to survive.

For the project, Alex used a combination of AI, geographical information systems (GIS) technology, and geo-satellite intelligence (GSI) solutions, to provide new information about where vital wood buffalo habitat has been lost.

“In the past, the wood buffalo thrived and the population was large,” says Alex. “But in the last few decades, because of human activity and wildfires, their habitat has changed and they are now confined to small areas. These wild buffalo need to be protected, but their natural habitat is shrinking year by year.”

The goal for Sogeti was to gather data to produce a rapid analysis of Alberta’s vast forest landscapes, using satellite imagery and digital technologies that could support ShagowAskee’s local knowledge.

“We needed an accurate picture of the habitat as it is now,” says Alex. “When we can see the composition of land, it helps local organizations understand where and how they can protect the buffalo – as well as other important species.”

Making experience count

The extent of the fires in Canada between 1985 and 2020

“One challenge on a project like this, is that you only have a small amount of time to work with the data,” says Alex. “A group such as ShagowAskee may not have a big budget, so you need to bring all your experience of working with data to the project quickly and still provide a solution that can have a big impact.”

Alex’s own experience helped him develop a useful solution quickly. “Having worked a lot with data gives me an advantage when working on new projects. I need to think quickly about how best to analyze it, structure it, and get meaningful results. Sometimes it’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about being clever with the data that’s available to you. For ShagowAskee, I added new satellite data analysis from the last few years in addition to already existing mappings that went back to the 1980s.” 

Sustainable future

A buffalo captured by a camera trap set up by ShagowAsee. Published with permission from ShagowAskee.

Alex says that the data will help ShagowAskee clearly demonstrate evidence of the threat to the buffalo population.

”It’s about supporting ShagowAskee and making sure its message is heard by those in charge of protecting the land. Personally, I want to keep on working on projects like this that make the world a better place and that drive towards a sustainable future.

“It’s important to know you have built something that is useful for people, and that it helps to protect their environment and their way of life. It’s about doing something useful for the world. It’s about making a positive impact.” While data, AI, GIS, and GSI technologies are important tools in projects which protect the wild buffalo, biodiversity, or water in Northern Alberta, what is at the heart of such projects is the human determination to do something good for the world which forms the foundation of a project’s success.


Working with Sogeti, a part of the Capgemini Group, ShagowAskee uses a Geo Satellite Intelligence and AI solution to visualize and analyze the e