On a fine day for conservation and tech in July, a small group of participants gathered at the iHub to listen to and engage a brilliant mind from Kenya's conservation scene - Dickson Ole Kaelo, founding CEO of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association. He took to the presentation as a seasoned orator would to a stage - passionate, charismatic and compelling. ThemedWildlife Tech - is it viable?,the meetup gave all present a closer look into the opportunities available for techies in the conservation space, hence validating the viability of tech in conservation. Here is a summary of what we gleaned:
1. Conservancies versus national parks/reserves
Growing up going for trips to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) national parks and game reserves, it's easy to assume that they are where all our wildlife is. Our tunnel vision in this regard is justified by all we have grown accustomed to through countless field trips to the Nairobi National Park and its orphanage, among other KWS-controlled areas. Surprisingly, then, was Dickson's revelation that over 70% of Kenya's wildlife is actually found in conservancies. More and more land is being set aside for conservation by landowners willing to lend a hand to conservationists. About 10 million acres have been set aside so far, with the number of conservancies growing fast.
Contrary to common belief, conservancies arenotKWS-controlled. In fact, they have a greater mandate to handle when it comes to conservation. "How?", you ask? For one, KWSterritories are free of human settlement, with the land being owned by the government. The rangers hardly ever have to deal with livestock, unless it is illegally grazing in the parks/reserves. Conservancies are located on large tracts of people's land - private or communal - and the owners agree to have their property used for wildlife conservation. In the case of conservancies, conservationists have the interests of not just the wildlife, but the landowners/communities and their livestock to take into consideration. Livestock, like wild herbivores, feed on grass. They are all fed on by lions and other carnivores (which may occasionally attack humans too). With such a trilemma on hand, it is clear that the work of a conservancy manager is tough; to say the least.
2. Opportunities for tech In what was a highly informative narrative, Dickson explained a myriad of possible avenues through which technology could make a key contribution to conservancy work. These were concerned with each of the aspects that conservancies have to manage - land, people, livestockandwildlife.
Potential applications of technology would be in areas such as:
- Resource mapping - water points, salt licks and pasture points
- Tracking habitat quality changes over time e.g. detecting if the landscape is becoming drier over time.
- Data capture for management plans
These are the people who enter into long-term agreements (10-15 years) with the conservancies to have their land used for conservation purposes. Technology would be useful for them and conservancy administration in the following ways:
- Connecting each landowner to a particular land area
- Tracking land ownership changes
- Communication across landowners
- Distributing rents/incomes to landowners
Opportunities for tech exist in information capture & sharing. This would improve the tourist experience by allowing feedback that would inform which routes tour guides take based on (geotagged) reports of animal sightings. Imagine if you could be told by a previous touring group where they saw a pride of lions or a herd of elephants. Wouldn't it make for a more fulfilling ride through the conservancy later when you got to see all that they did too as opposed to potentially missing out because you went on a different route?
Tech could greatly assist in the following respects:
- Tracking livestock movement and resource use
- Managing livestock grazing
- Managing predation
- Managing compensation of people affected by human-wildlife conflict
Some key uses for tech in managing the wildlife in conservancies would be in these areas:
- Population monitoring - in space and time, trends, movement patterns, population size and individual recognition
- Tracking and managing human-wildlife conflict
- Combating wildlife crime - tracking and collection of evidence
- Monitoring habitat quality - water quality and availability of pasture
As can be seen in what is but a summary of the potential applications of technology in conservation, there is a lot that our talent-rich community can contribute to the scene. The opportunity to be a game-changer is evident, the players in the field are open to the idea of collaboration, but where are the techies to aid them? Step up and make a difference. Tech is certainly viable in the conservation battle to save our national heritage. If you're interested in learning more about this, join us for this month's meetup and follow our tweets with the hashtags #TMC, #Wildlife and #Conservation.