Kenya goes hi-tech in anti-poaching war

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

The quest to preserve Kenya’s endangered wild animals has gone hi-tech. Plans are underway to use drones to monitor movement of the animals in the wild to help protect them from poachers.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director William Kiprono said the low-cost unmanned aircraft will be used to collect data on animals in the wild.

“The data on the movement of animals will help to determine their safety and rangers will respond in case they are at the risk from a poacher,” said Kiprono.

Already South Africa is using similar technologies to monitor its wildlife in the National parks and Kenya intends to follow suit.

Kenya has been losing many elephants, rhinos and other coveted ‘ivory’ game to poachers but the drones will help avert the trend, say officials.

This comes days after the Canadian Government gave Kenya Sh160 million emergency funding to combat international wildlife trafficking.

According to the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who made the announcement at a London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade which ran from February 13 to 14, the money will build the capacity of KWS to combat international wildlife trafficking.

The fund will also help crack down on illicit networks involved in poaching and illegal trade of wildlife.

Ivory trade in Kenya was made illegal in the 1989, but continued demand for ivory has spurred on poachers and smugglers.

Demand is particularly high in some Asian countries where ivory is used to make ornaments and allegedly medicine.

According to a recent BBC report, “Rhino horns are often sold in Asian countries where some consumers believe they have healing properties. The horns are made from the same material as human fingernails. Experts say they are worthless as a cure for diseases.”

New technologies, like use of drones to fight poaching at source will therefore cut down supply at the source and help save wildlife which is a lifeline for countries like Kenya.

In October 2013, the Kenyan Wildlife Service received the equipment from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to help insert microchips into rhino’s horns and bodies.

Each rhino in the project had one chip implanted in its body and a second embedded in its horn. Using special scanners, officials are now able to track the animals and help anti-poaching authorities link recovered or confiscated horns to poaching cases.

When a rhino is killed and the horn is hacked off and shipped away, if this horn is confiscated and the microchip tag identified, it can be tracked back to a poached animal thus prove of poaching.

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