On Thursday, 12th June, a small group of conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts alike braved the prevailing chilly Nairobi weather to meet and discuss real challenges faced by rangers out in the wild. Themed On The Ground, the latest meetup of the Geeks in Gumboots (a.k.a GiGs) sought to highlight the challenges that our first line of defence against poaching has in carrying out its mandate. In addition, attempts were made to identify potential solutions for the problem, working with an example of an app in its formative stages aimed at improving data collection for rangers so as to better understand poaching trends, migration routes and even animal behaviour. One thing that became increasingly clear as the conversation around conservation developed was that technological solutions for the wild needed to be adapted to the environment. How so? Well, connectivity is a major bottleneck in some of the regions where our national reserves and parks are situated. Given the vastness of the areas, continuous communication between say a GPS chip and a base station would also be hard to imagine without using a large power source and a reasonable network connection. Another evident problem was the need for community ownership of solutions, and in the larger scope of things, the wildlife they are aimed at protecting. It would be impossible to convince a community that believes all animals are evil and hell-bent on eating through their farms that it should protect the same "culprits". Human-wildlife conflict adds a complication to the fight against poaching that must be considered when creating tech solutions for wildlife protection.
While the challenges are formidable, it is not all doom and gloom in the conservation space. Even as a group of non-technical ladies and gentlemen, we put our heads together to come up with the simplest solutions you could imagine. Take for example the new-age smartphone, designed to keep track of the number of steps you take each day and what distance you travel. While GPS may not be practical given the connectivity problems, using a phone's pedometer and keeping track of distance travelled, over time patrols could identify important facts like:
- where they have and haven't been relative to the position of their base station
- where they witnessed most incidents
- where they found the highest number of animals
A big THANK YOU to all who could make time to attend this meetup. See you, and your friends, next month.