Poaching War Gets High Tech: Satellite Cameras Track Wildlife Killers

Alex Olesker on fighting international organized crime with the latest technology

Poaching War Gets High Tech: Satellite Cameras Track Wildlife Killers Poaching War Gets High Tech: Satellite Cameras Track Wildlife Killers

Uncategorized September 8, 2013 0

Cambridge Consultants Poaching War Gets High Tech: Satellite Cameras Track Wildlife Killers Alex Olesker on fighting international organized crime with the latest technology With... Poaching War Gets High Tech: Satellite Cameras Track Wildlife Killers
Cambridge Consultants

Poaching War Gets High Tech: Satellite Cameras Track Wildlife Killers

Alex Olesker on fighting international organized crime with the latest technology

With the help of the Zoological Society of London, the Kenyan Wildlife Service is gearing up to deploy satellite-linked cameras in the fight against wildlife poachers.

These motion-triggered cameras, developed by Cambridge Consultants, will be deployed in remote areas of Tsavo National Park and, if successful, may expand to the other 21 national parks, 28 national reserves, and five national sanctuaries that comprise the roughly 8 percent of Kenyan land that’s under the stewardship of the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

The cameras can weather the elements and survive contact with wildlife and can be hidden almost anywhere. They automatically upload near-real-time images of wildlife through the Iridium satellite network to a mobile application that can be accessed from anywhere and helps identify the animals. Aside from better tracking and monitoring of wildlife populations, the system will assist with early warning and prosecution of poaching.

This system of satellite cameras can help turn the tide in Kenya’s losing battle with wildlife trafficking. Despite a growing corps of over 3,000 relatively well-trained and well-armed rangers, the high and rising price of wildlife products such as rhino horn and ivory combined with Kenya’s remote expanses and the sophistication of its poachers and traffickers have led to a dramatic decline in the local wildlife.

The population of elephants, for example, has fallen from 167,000 in 1967 to fewer than 40,000 today, while the wild rhino population has gone from 20,000 in 1969 to only 539. Kenyan authorities reported roughly 350 elephants poached in 2012, three times as many as in 2008, and this year Kenya has already lost 35 rhinos killed compared to 29 last year. As more meticulous poachers may hide or destroy the evidence, those figures are all approximations — and getting a better grasp of the ecological devastation will be another benefit of the satellite camera system.

Though poaching is a serious problem worldwide and especially in Africa, where some of the world’s most sought-after wildlife ranges in countries that may have lax laws and corrupt, inept and underfunded law enforcement, Kenya faces particular challenges. Unlike many of its peers, Kenya has taken an absolutist stand on killing endangered species. While nations such as South Africa and Namibia allow limited big game hunting to help fund conservation efforts, Kenya banned big game hunting in 1977 and rangers shoot to kill any armed poachers encountered in a wildlife zone.

The policy is not only meant to protect wildlife — poachers in Kenya are extremely dangerous, with known ties to Somali warlords and Asian organized crime, and have already killed two rangers in 2013. The illicit wildlife trade is so brutal and attractive because of the rising cost of endangered animal parts, driven by factors such as the growing wealth of Asian nations that prize them for traditional medicine. In Vietnam, for example, a kilogram of rhino horn can sell for up to $100,000, up from $250 to $500 a kilogram in the early 1990s.

While Kenya’s challenges are immense, the rewards can be equally significant. Eco-tourism is more profitable domestically than poaching, which, like many illicit economies, generates the most money for those higher up in the organization, in this case foreign organized crime. The safari business in Kenya, by contrast, generates over a billion dollars a year, most of which goes to local communities.

Equally important, Kenya’s wildlife is a national treasure and a crucial component of its identity and heritage. Innovative solutions such as the satellite camera network could preserve Kenya’s wildlife populations for future generations to come.