High-tech cam­eras to curb wildlife poach­ing

Business Daily (Kenya) - - FRONT PAGE - Sarah Ooko sara­

The Kenya Wildlife Ser­vice (KWS) has adopted the use of in­no­va­tive mo­bile phone com­pli­ant cam­era traps to fa­cil­i­tate ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing and track­ing of park an­i­mals.

This novel tech­nol­ogy, cur­rently be­ing pi­loted at the Tsavo Na­tional park, will make it pos­si­ble for the in­sti­tu­tion to get real-time im­ages of wildlife liv­ing in se­cluded and hard to reach habi­tats.

Cam­era traps are spe­cial types of cam­eras used for an­i­mal con­ser­va­tion pur­poses. They are equipped with mo­tion sen­sors aimed at cap­tur­ing mov­ing crea­tures.

These traps are usu­ally mounted in strate­gic ar­eas of parks — such as feed­ing points and wa­ter bod­ies — where they con­stantly cap­ture high res­o­lu­tion im­ages of wild an­i­mals re­sid­ing in forested ecosys­tems or bushy ar­eas that are dif­fi­cult to ac­cess.

This al­lows KWS of­fi­cials to have ‘eyes’ on the ground which fa­cil­i­tate the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of con­ser­va­tion threats such as poach­ing.

They also help with the dis­cov­ery of new an­i­mals like the gi­ant ele­phant shrew species dis­cov­ered in the Bonidodori for­est in 2010.

Dr Shadrack Ngene, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of bio­di­ver­sity re­search and mon­i­tor­ing divi­sion at KWS, noted that previous cam­era traps were fit­ted with mem­ory cards that had to be phys­i­cally re­moved and in­serted into a com­puter be­fore se­cu­rity teams or re­searchers could view cap­tured im­ages.

But the new tech­nol­ogy, he said, makes it pos­si­ble for the cam­era traps to cap­ture im­ages and trans­mit real-time pic­tures elec­tron­i­cally to smart­phones of park of­fi­cials.

“Aside from sav­ing time, the in­stant trans­mis­sion of im­ages will en­able wildlife of­fi­cials to iden­tify po­ten­tial threats fast thus giv­ing them am­ple time to act ac­cord­ingly.”

Dr Ngene noted that an­i­mals liv­ing in dense forests or bushy ar­eas rarely come out in the open.

“So the cam­era traps help us to iden­tify these an­i­mals and ef­fec­tively mon­i­tor their ac­tiv­i­ties. If you don’t know them, then you can’t pro­tect them.”

Tour com­pa­nies and agen­cies also rely on this in­for­ma­tion to de­velop tar­geted ad­verts aimed at boost­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tourism.

“Vis­i­tors need to know types of an­i­mals found in our dif­fer­ent parks be­fore they de­cide where to go.”

Dr Ngene stated that the new cam­era traps will work ‘hand-in­hand’ with hi-tech satel­lite collars that en­able rangers to eas­ily track lo­ca­tions of an­i­mals found in less hilly, open fields and more vis­i­ble ar­eas such as ele­phants, lions, cheetahs, leop­ards, buf­faloes, an­telopes and wilde­beest.

Once these an­i­mals are fit­ted with the collars, game rangers are able to trace their move­ments and where­abouts day and night by mon­i­tor­ing their GPS co-or­di­nates from com­puter screens at KWS of­fices.

“If we no­tice that cer­tain an­i­mals have re­mained static for a long time, we nor­mally send our pa­trol teams on the ground to phys­i­cally lo­cate the an­i­mals us­ing hand-held trans­mit­ters and find out if there’s a prob­lem.”

Ngene states that de­tailed records of move­ment pat­terns col­lected through the satel­lite collars have en­abled KWS to map key wildlife cor­ri­dors which fa­cil­i­tate proper plan­ning of eco-friendly in­fras­truc­tural devel­op­ment.

“This in­for­ma­tion was use­ful in the con­struc­tion of the stan­dard gauge rail­way as we wanted it to pass in ar­eas far from wildlife so as to min­imise dis­tur­bance to an­i­mals.”

The mapped routes have also made it pos­si­ble for KWS to put in place mea­sures aimed at curb­ing hu­man-wildlife con­flicts in move­ment cor­ri­dors close to where peo­ple live.

“We usu­ally have our of­fi­cials sta­tioned in such ar­eas and es­pe­cially at night to pre­vent wild an­i­mals from cross­ing over to peo­ple’s farms.”

Dr Ngene stated that night pa­trols have been en­hanced by night vi­sion gog­gles (re­sem­bling binoc­u­lars) that en­able KWS rangers to ‘see’ in the dark through the use of in­frared tech­nol­ogy. They can zoom in or out de­pend­ing on what they are look­ing for.

“We in­tro­duced this at the height of poach­ing in the coun­try and it helped bring the num­bers down as we could see these poach­ers even in the dark.”


ON THE MOVE New cam­eras can cap­ture high qual­ity pic­tures of mo­bile an­i­mals. --

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