By Lilian Ochieng
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) plans to set up a Sh770 million radio communications network for surveillance to frustrate poaching activities that are choking the country’s economy.
In 2014 alone, the KWS revealed that 162 elephants and 21 rhinos were killed in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and other private conservancies.
In April 2015, Kenya seized ivory worth Sh5.4 million being shipped from Mombasa to Thailand.
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Judy Wakhungu, said the new network is superior and would ensure secure communication between fixed, mobile and portable radios.
“It will initially cover three of eight conservation areas namely, Tsavo, Southern and Central Rift, allowing communication between different parks and KWS headquarters in Nairobi,” said Prof Wakhungu.
SURGE IN DEMAND FOR IVORY
Mr Olivier Picard, president of Ellipse Projects, the contractor installing the network, said the exponential surge in demand for ivory and other animal products over the past three years has forced the KWS to find a more effective way to monitor the reserves.
“The threat to wildlife is (now) greater than it has ever been. Official figures estimate that 25,000 elephants are killed in Africa every year,” said Mr Picard.
He added that the system works by counteracting poaching in a proactive and robust way, deterring poachers who are increasingly heavily armed and well equipped.
It offers surveillance, monitoring, information gathering and storing systems that are extensive, efficient and reliable.
The Sh770 million funding was extended to the government in 2012 by the French government to upgrade the analogue radio network to a digital radio network.
Currently, the KWS is using an analogue radio network that has very low frequency and cannot detect the movement of poachers in remote regions of a park.
It only helps with communication around park gates, with patrol teams and between vehicles and other KWS stations.