Saving the rainforest with old Huawei mobile phones

Saving the rainforest with old Huawei mobile phones

Non-profit organisation The Rainforest Connection is using thousands of solar-powered Huawei phones to act as listening posts in its fight against illegal deforestations around the world.

Huawei Topher White
Mr Topher White started The Rainforest Connection to stop illegal logging by using old mobile phones to act as “listening posts". Photos: The Rainforest Connection

When Mr Topher White first stepped into the Borneo rainforest in the summer of 2011, he was enthralled by the overwhelming sounds of the forest.

The cacophony of rhino hornbills, buzzing cicadas and gibbons singing over great distances was an unforgettable experience for him. But when the conservation technologist started to isolate the different sounds digitally, he discovered, to his horror, continuous sounds of chainsaws in the background that had been masked by the loud natural sounds of the forest.

He took a walk around the forest and stumbled upon illegal loggers with chainsaws – just hundreds of metres away from a ranger station at a gibbon reserve. That spurred the activist into action.

Mr White started a non-profit organisation called The Rainforest Connection that aims to stop illegal logging by using old mobile phones to act as “listening posts". These mobile phones pick up the sounds of the illegal deforestation activities and send real-time alerts to forest rangers and other authorities to stop illegal loggers.

Deforestation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and Mr Topher estimates that 50 to 90 per cent of all deforestation activities are illegal.

Huawei Topher White Cameroon
Mr White works with forest rangers to protect various endangered species.

Today, The Rainforest Connection has projects in 10 countries across five continents, including California, Peru, Romania, Cameroon and Indonesia. The aim: Stop illegal logging and poaching while helping to protect various endangered species in the forests.


At the heart of The Rainforest Connection’s activities are solar-powered audio monitoring systems called Guardians.

These Guardians use old Huawei cell phones as the heart of their system. Thousands of recycled Huawei phones, powered by solar panels and placed high up on trees in the forest, serve as listening posts to record the sounds of the forest.

With help from the cloud and telco towers, a call is being made every second to servers powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology in order to monitor the complex sounds of the rainforest.

If sounds of chainsaws or trucks are detected, rangers are notified in real time and sent to the location for further investigation.

The Rainforest Connection and Huawei are now using their partnership and ecosystem of AI technology to better understand animal sounds in the rainforest – leading to some much-needed help for several endangered species.

The two organisations are working together to develop an innovative platform that includes equipment collection, storage services and intelligent analytics. The equipment collection comes from the upgrade of Huawei's old mobile phones that can work round the clock for two years. 

Huawei’s big data service is used to store and manage the audio data collected from various collection points. At the same time, Huawei is creating an advanced intelligent algorithm model based on Huawei Cloud’s AI technologies to achieve more accurate identification of chainsaw noises and truck sounds.


Huawei is currently working with researcher and biologist Jenna Lawson to use Huawei AI’s machine-learning technology to automatically comb through over 200,000 hours of collected data to detect the sounds of spider monkeys.

With this technology, the researcher can find the different calls of the different animals and use this to create a distribution map of where these spider monkeys are located and then share this information with The Rainforest Connection to help them with its ongoing efforts to reduce illegal deforestation and save endangered animals.

For more information on Huawei’s collaboration with The Rainforest Connection, visit