Chege Amos trains Kenyan wildlife rangers how to use the latest tech to record their patrols. Analysis of this data helps managers make better conservation decisions, he says
In all my years working in conservation in Kenya, I never thought that I would be a part of something that could revolutionise the way we decide how to act to deal with the threats facing Africa’s wildlife and conservation areas.
Managing large conservation areas is no easy task. It becomes especially complicated when you consider the threats that frontline protection teams manning these vast areas must always be ready to face. What most people don’t understand is that empowering proactive frontline protection forces goes beyond the physical training that we are accustomed to seeing on TV or other media.
Space for Giants been working with conservancies in Kenya’s Laikipia region, to train rangers and conservation managers on using new technology to monitor wildlife and the threats it faces.
One tool, called CyberTracker is a GPS-enabled app for simple smartphones that rangers use to collect details of what they see on their daily patrols. This includes sightings of wildlife with their location and numbers, human activities especially those that might threaten wildlife, and basic information on patrol routes and lengths.
All the information collected is geotagged and helps in mapping key pressure points, as well as wildlife distribution within a conservation area.
This information is then uploaded to a database platform, called SMART, short for Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool. It produces analysis and reports that give conservation managers key insights where best to deploy limited resources.
For the last 16 months, working with Space for Giants, I have trained rangers at Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya on CyberTracker, and they are now very effectively using the system. Its reports via SMART are helping management plan conservation interventions better, too.
Recently, neighbouring conservancies have developed interest in the system, and we hope now to roll it out across the whole Laikipia landscape thanks to the support from the Zoological Society of London. Mugie Conservancy, to the north of Loisaba, is already on board and two others, Suiyan and Mpala, are next in line.
“SMART is working very well on Mugie,” says Josh Perrett, Mugie’s General Manager. “We share the data with the rangers so they can check their weekly performance against others in their team. We use this so that they can buy into the idea of data collection.
“If we can steadily collect data over the next year then we can plan our operations much better and more efficiently which is in support of security in high-pressure zones during the drier times of the year.
“It will also be great to see the wildlife trends over the period of a year, and in the not so distant future it would be interesting to see a combined report on Mugie and Loisaba to be able to collaborate information to enhance operations.”
It is clear that the system enhances security and reliable data collection, as well as timely informed decision making and successful rangers deployment, making them more efficient and allowing for the full use of available resources which we all know can be limited.
In most protected areas, data collection and management can be cumbersome. Before CyberTracker and SMART were introduced there was no real systematic way or recording data.
If a ranger was out on his or her patrols and come across an injured animal or evidence of trespassing, he or she would radio in some details of what they had seen, if possible, or make a handwritten note to report it after finishing their shift.
Now the rangers can keep electronic information easily in their phones on daily encounters, and the reports generated ensure quicker and better decisions can be made based according to accurate information about the situation on the ground. Additionally, standardized data is collected and stored in a systematic way for retrieval purposes.
We are seeing the system work very well in Loisaba and Mugie Conservancies and we look forward to training more teams in Laikipia.