By Karen Graham
Poaching is still a major problem in sub-Saharan Africa, with Kenya losing 18 rhinos and 51 elephants to well-armed poachers already this year. In 2013, 59 rhinos and 302 elephants were lost, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
It has become a battle that requires fighting technology with even better technology. Large well-armed criminal groups are using thermal-imagers and high-tech night vision goggles, giving them the upper-hand in avoiding park rangers, allowing them to track and kill the animals of their choice.
Even though a new law providing stiffer penalties for wildlife crimes was enacted in Kenya, and became operational in January this year, it is only 75 percent effective, says KWS Acting Director General William Kiprono. "We want to amend the law so that we can have a comprehensive law," he said, noting that wildlife criminals are still taking advantage of loopholes and ambiguities in the law as it is written now.
In an effort to level the playing field, Patrick Omondi, deputy director for wildlife conservation at the Kenya Wildlife Service, says Kenya plans to use surveillance drones to help fight rhino and elephant poachers. "We will start piloting the use of drones in the Tsavo National Park ecosystem, one of the largest national parks in the world," said Omondi. Tsavo National Park is in the southeast of Kenya, and has vast, sweeping plains, with few watering holes. The area is dotted with wildlife, including elephants.
The KWS is currently seeking funding for the drones from non-profit organizations. "These drones will help us cover a huge area in a short period of time compared to a battalion of rangers, which would take up to a month. This is economical as it will reduce wear and tear, cost of fuel for vehicles, feeding the rangers and save a lot of time," KWS deputy director of security Julius Kimani told HumanIPO at a press conference held at the Nairobi National Park.
The KWS is facing an insufficient number of rangers, bulletproof vests, thermal imagers and night vision goggles. For the KWS, it is a matter of forced modernization, with drones being a necessity in fighting the technologies being used by poachers.
Kenya continues to be a major trade route for ivory in Africa, through the port of Mombasa, according to the latest report by Interpol’s Environmental Security unit, entitled "Elephant Poaching and Ivory Trafficking in East Africa – Assessment for an effective law enforcement response."
Even though Kenya has seen success in the battle against poaching, it is a never ending problem, as long as there are people willing to pay stiff sums of money for the precious ivory or rhino horns. More important still, is Kenya's tourism industry and the harm being inflicted on it by criminal poaching. Video.