New app to save Kenya's Sh90b elephant eco-tourism sector

NAIROBI, KENYA: A new app has been unveiled to secure Kenya's Sh87 billion elephant eco-tourism sector.

At the same time, the app dubbed WILD (Wildlife Information and Landscape Database) will also save Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) up to Sh200 million annually on compensation on destroyed crops.

The app which is aimed at improving ranger patrol by using the simplest of technology of smart phones is an initiative of the Planning for Resilience in East Africa Through Policy, Adaptation, Research and Economic Development (PREPARED) project funded by the American government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

It is as a result of President Barack Obama's 2015 directive that all US agencies in Africa should come up with new ways of scaling up the fight on poaching.

Developed by Strathmore University's iLab, WILD is able to reduce reaction time to intercepted poaching incidents, human wildlife conflict and emergencies to almost immediately. It has also gotten rid of paper work patrols.

PREPARED's Chief of Party Scott McCormick said there is no doubt this new technology will go a long way to save the country's tourism sector that has been brought to its knees due to either national security threats or human wildlife conflict especially through human elephant interaction.

He noted that just since the year started, some 16 elephants have been killed by the community as retaliation for destroying their crops.

"Yes there are conflicts which is not undeniable. But let us not forget that tourists do not travel miles to come and see goats and sheep. It is the wild they come for," said McCormick.

Just in 2015 alone, there were 874 cases of crop destruction by elephants amounting to Sh200 million losses as documented at Amboseli National reserve.

One of the main advantages of the app as explained by one of the developers Tirus Wanyoike from Strathmore is that it needs almost no network to operate.

"It has been customized for the wild environment and it is full of icons (and has Kiswahili instructions too) so even the illiterate of the patrol officers can still efficiently use," said Wanyoike.

This is how it works. The officer clicks on start button when he or she starts patrolling. All along, his route of patrol is being recorded in the cloud and transmitted to the main office too using Global Positioning Software (GPS).

If he meets anything strange (like poaching activity, destroyed crops or new species of animal), he takes a photo and uploads it in the system. This may be footprints of elephants heading to human inhabited areas, or signs of poachers themselves (fires, or paraphernalia).

In case of an emergency (like animal attack, runway poachers or injured animal), the officer hits the panic button and standby rangers on foot and in helicopters will be there almost immediately to save the day.