Twenty-eight poachers have so far been caught at night since new thermal and infrared cameras and software systems were introduced in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and other national parks, the World Wildlife Fund says.
The technology which the organisation started testing in two Kenyan parks in March 2016 has been helping armed rangers track poachers hunting elephants, rhinoceros and pangolin for their ivory, horns and scales respectively.
When poachers enter the park at night, a thermal camera at the perimeter notices the action. An algorithm then automatically identifies that the heat is coming from a person and not an animal, therefore sending an alert to a team of rangers.
The cameras are mounted on trucks and as rangers drive, a screen inside shows movement of both animals and poachers up to a mile away.
“They go where they’re expecting to see poachers, but the camera allows them to see and find them at a much greater distance,” says Colby Loucks, director of wildlife conservation at WWF as quoted on Fast Coexist . “Then they walkie talkie to the rest of the rangers who are out in front of them hiding, and just sort of direct them to where the poachers are coming.”
In the past, rangers used to hide in the grass, and jump up and try to catch poachers on foot. Most would get away. “There’d be 10 poachers that come in a group and they would be able to identify and chase them, and maybe catch one or two, but the rest would just go and hide and they’d never find them,” he says.
Fast Coexist further reports that currently the cameras can help locate everyone, and arrest rates have gone from roughly 10-20% to 80-90%. It’s also having a deterrent effect. “These guys are like, ‘How are you finding us?’” says Loucks. “‘What are you doing?’ They’re confused. We’ve heard local community leaders saying, ‘Don’t go into these parks because you will be seen.’”
The new system is also significantly safer for rangers, because it’s possible to see how poachers are armed (and, because it’s also possible to see animals at a distance, it’s easier to avoid surprising a lion or buffalo that might attack).
After the success of the first pilots, and with a new donation of more cameras from FLIR, WWF is rolling out the technology is new parks, and beginning to test the cameras on drones in Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Poaching has dramatically increased in some areas within the last decade. In South Africa, for example, where 13 rhinos were poached in 2007, nearly 1,200 were poached in 2015. Better technology to catch poachers could help tip the balance for some species to survive.
Poaching has been difficult to contain in Africa owing to the vastness of areas that need to be monitored. Over the last ten years, 110,000 African elephants have been killed by poachers, a figure that is just quarter of their current population.Follow @Muisyo_