Kenya Is Poaching Its Poachers With The Help Of Technology
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
In the last decade, Africa’s elephant population has declined by around 110,000, primarily due to poaching. The African rhino is faring no better as 1175 were killed in South Africa alone in 2015, compared with just thirteen in 2007.
As poachers often operate under the camouflage of night, this type of crime is hard to tackle. All of that is set to change as conservation teams are given a new weapon to fight poaching. And no, it’s not a super-powered rifle.
In December 2012, Google awarded the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) a $5 million grant to tackle poaching through technology. This led to the launch of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project. In collaboration with FLIR, a thermal imaging company, they have designed a new infra-red camera capable of detecting human movement at night.
The success rate so far has been impressive; local rangers have nabbed 150 poachers since the programme started. Despite the efforts of the Kenyan rangers, the war on poaching remains as conservationists estimate that, currently, more elephants in Africa are being killed than born.
The infra-red technology is not the only high-tech gadget that rangers have up their sleeves. Marc Goss, manager of the Mara Elephant Project, has become more concerned with the escalating conflict between humans and elephants, namely local farmers. Crops and cattle belonging to farmers are getting closer to the national parks, resulting in a decrease of land for the elephants to live in.
To tackle this problem, Goss and his team fitted elephants with collars containing GPS trackers. They monitor these trackers through smartphones with an app developed by Vulcan, a private company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. This allows Goss and his team to keep close tabs on the elephants and head them off before they reach villages and farmlands to raid crops. The team literally shoo away the hungry elephants in order to prevent them being speared or killed by villagers or farmers.
In Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, there is now a control room where a ranger can monitor the feeds from sixteen cameras positioned around the park. Every time there is movement, an alert is tripped and the ranger must acknowledge every one with a key-stroke or mouse click.
The conservation struggle to protect the indigenous population of elephants and rhinos is an on-going one. The results of the newly introduced poacher prevention technology have been extremely promising and the rangers and researchers based in the national parks hope that this funding, and therefore their success rate, will continue.