Long considered as a military hardware, space technology is fast gaining credence in civilian use to monitor wildlife movements and enhance bio-diversity.
But while other governments had made tremendous progress in conservation and in their anti-poaching battle, Kenya continues to lag behind due to its delay to legalise use of space technology to monitor movement of endangered wildlife and large swathes of protected forests against deforestation.
An international conference on use of space technology to combat wildlife crimes and enhance biodiversity held in Nairobi heard that Kenya was incurring heavy losses worth billions of shillings due to uncontrolled illegal activities.
The conference heard that poachers had a field day and loggers continued depleting forests while pressure from bludgeoning human population saw protected areas hived off to provide land for settlements much to the disadvantage of wildlife.
While many people had been arrested and charged for poaching and logging offences, they went home scot-free due to lack of evidence which could be readily available if the government allowed use of space technology that has real-time digital imagery of all areas taken from space.
“We run an illegal timber trade monitoring in various countries and have successfully reduced poaching and also helped utilise the few rangers available to respond effectively before truckloads of logs leave forests.
Kenyans should lobby to have this new technology available and at lower costs to ensure all areas are covered,” said Jaime Alexandra Webbe, programme management officer in charge of forests and climate change at the United Nations Environmental Programme.
Adverse climatic changes, ecosystem loss and wildlife crimes which threatened bio-diversity and wildlife could best be mitigated via use of various software applications, initiatives and projects that use space-based technologies.
These include imagery collected by earth observation satellites and satellite-derived geospatial data, satellite-communications and global navigation satellite systems - to monitor, assess and manage bio-diversity and ecosystems in support of sustainable environmental development.
Among the attendants at the event were representatives from space technology industries, governmental and non-governmental organisations, technology experts, national park authorities and rangers, and wildlife managers.
While satellites’ launching to space is costly, its use as a commercial product has gained momentum where some companies offer motor tracking services at a fee like the France-based Argos company which manufactures small tracking gadgets that communicate with the satellite on real-time sending information on speed, location and fuel consumption of a wired vehicle.
Argos has also installed small chips on migratory bird as well as turtles and whales whose roosting, feeding habits as well as migratory patterns are monitored thereby helping conservationists take mitigated measures to boast their breeding and survival rates.
Natural Resources and Environment Principal Secretary Margaret Mwakima expressed optimism use of space technology would soon be legalised in Kenya since the Cabinet had approved a sessional paper allowing formation of a national space agency which will establish a regulatory framework on space technology.
The government, she said, was alive to the benefits of such technologies saying her ministry was awaiting a nod which will allow establishment of a unique web platform for environmental conservation matters.
Mrs Mwakima said Kenya also needs to tap into local knowledge in formulation of software that will address its challenges in conservation.
Among the gadgets on display at the meet were some that could be implanted in an animal and trigger a security alert in case of a poaching threat which could elicit sudden erratic movement of the animal.
“The poachers’ menace can be history if all elephants and rhinos have electronic specialist gadget implanted which would be closely monitored from a control centre for any unusual behaviour such as panic movements triggered by a gunshot being fired,” said Ms Aline Duplaa from France-based Wildlife Applications gadget maker.
Airbus Defence and Space Africa director Ghislain De La Sayette told the conference that they were holding consultations with various African governments on new ways to reduce the cost of space technology gadgets whereby local factories could be opened to locally assemble the gadgets.
“It is costly but useful in the long term as we shall utilise the few rangers we have efficiently. Space technology is also capable of carrying out animal census among other data that can be used to argue the case for funds allocation to various causes,” she said.