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High-tech cameras to curb wildlife poaching

New cameras can capture high quality pictures of  mobile animals. FILE PHOTO | NMG
New cameras can capture high quality pictures of mobile animals. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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 Boni-Dodori 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-in-hand’ 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.”

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