Mara Conservancies Embrace Technology to Protect Wildlife
The Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) has in partnership with USAID, rolled out the use of the Wildlife Information and Landscape Database (WILD) App that will strengthen existing wildlife anti-poaching and human wildlife conflict (HWC) deterrent efforts in eleven conservancies in Maasai Mara.
The mobile phone data collection application and cloud-based database developed by @iLabAfica, Strathmore University is designed to improve collection, sharing, management and analysis of biodiversity information and data of endangered wildlife such as Elephants and Rhinos which are facing threats due to the increased poaching activities.
In January 2014, in response to President Barrack Obama’s Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, USAID’s Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) Project established a partnership with key governmental, non-governmental conservation organization and private sector stakeholders in Kenya and Tanzania to discuss how Information and Communications Technology could be used to improve the fight against poaching in East Africa. The goal was to develop innovative tools that help prevent poaching and HWC, and improve monitoring, coordination, and analysis of anti-poaching and HWC deterrent efforts.
In the partnership with USAID PREPARED Project, MMWCA has trained 11 conservancy managers, 104 rangers on the use of the WILD application. A total of 53 ranger teams covering 11 conservancies have been equipped with a Smartphone installed with the WILD application for data collection during their patrols. Conservancy managers have access to the backend of the application to monitor data collection by their respective ranger teams. Additionally, a data manager has been enlisted to help conservancies collect, analyse, store and apply the data to their daily operations.
The WILD application tracks a patrol unit’s movement using global-positioning software (GPS) using the Smartphone. While on patrol, rangers can record information on incidences that occur, such as poaching, animal mortality, human wildlife conflict, illegal human activity, community service, wildlife sightings, climate data and others.
The information captured in WILD is stored in a secure online database that allows administrators to access and analyse information collected by their rangers, and use this information to support evidence-based management decisions, such as re-organizing patrol routes to cover areas with higher incidents of poaching or HWC. WILD can also be used to track the progress and outcomes of counter wildlife trafficking legal cases that the organization is supporting.
Administrators can view reported incidences geo-spatially by patrol unit, time period or incident type. Administers can link related incidences that occur over a longer time period; for example, linking a crop-raiding incident with a retaliatory killing that may have happened several days later.
Rangers like James Ekiru, Senior Warden of the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) are excited about the use of technology in their work. Ekiru is responsible for coordinating a team of community rangers entrusted with protecting and saving elephants in community conservancies of the greater Maasai Mara region.
For Ekiru, data collection and analysis – critical to the success of his work – has remained the main challenge over his conservation career spanning four decades. “Since I started working as a ranger in 1973, the most cumbersome part of my job was the task of collecting data on paper sheets, filing it in cabinets and retrieving it when needed,” says Ekiru.
Ekiru and his team helped with the development of the WILD application over a period of three years by testing out its applicability. “I now have another weapon in my armory. This WILD application is making our work easy and effective. You do not have to carry pens and notebooks to document what you see, “states Ekiru who particularly likes panic button on the application, which “once you click, it sends a distress signal for immediate response.”
Eriku lauds the involvement of conservancies and rangers in the development of the WILD application. “We have tested it and we like it, especially the choice to use Kiswahili for those not conversant with English and using of icons for an illiterate ranger.”