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EarthRanger Technology a new dimension in wildlife conservation

Written by  McDonald Chiwayula

In the jungles of Africa, the roaring of lions and leopards, trumpeting of elephants, squealing of rhinoceros and grunting of Buffaloes is slowly diminishing. Poachers with their handmade rifles have left a significant dent on the big five population.

Lawrence Munro of African Parks  explaining about EarthRanger Lawrence Munro of African Parks explaining about EarthRanger
25
May

It is on record that poachers are using a variety of handmade weapons: Snares and poisoned spears, guns, shot guns and larger calibers. On various occasions some Asian mafias have been found in possession of AK47 rifles.

 

According to Craig Reid, One of the Managers for African Parks particularly in-charge for Liwonde National Park in Malawi confirmed to this publication that poaching reached its worst levels prior to 2015 when Department of National Parks and Wildlife entered into partnership.


What do people look for in the park?

 

Reid said that members of the community including poachers were sneaking into the park to illegally obtain:

• Elephant ivory
• Bush meat
• Timber
• Hides and skins
• Grass and honey

 

Craig Reid, Parks Manager, African Parks -Malawi

 

“The situation was very bad before African Parks took over management of Liwonde National Park. Even in the earliest years of our management poaching was one of the chief causes for worry. Then about 300-400 snares were being removed from the park every month. Since 2015 about 36,200 wire snares traps have been removed by park rangers, and for the past 20 months not one high value species has been poached,” said Reid.


EarthRanger

While African Parks management was exploring various ways of dealing with poachers and other intertwined issues, Vulcan Inc, an American company founded by late technologist and philanthropist, the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Gardner Allen, developed a technological product, EarthRanger to enhance management and protection of wildlife and their habitat. According to Bruce Jones, Africa representative for Vulcan Inc, the EarthRanger technology goes beyond poaching control.

 


“The EarthRanger is a system that is based on a map as background, that surfaces information from a whole bunch of tracking devices so you can get a live view of what’s happening in your protected area. So, you can see where your rangers are, you can monitor where collared animals are and to prevent human-animal conflict you can also see if an elephant has broken the fence and is approaching a village. This is in real time hence a must have technology when it comes to conservation of wild life,” said Jones.

 

 

Bruce Jones, Business Development Representative, Vulcan Inc

 

What EarthRanger is capable of doing?

 

• Integrates various locations and tracks remote sensors within a protected area.

• Supports park managers in threat identification
• Provides better intelligence and enhances decision making
• Real time data visualization for policy and enforcement measures

 

What has changed since introduction of EarthRanger?

 

Introduction of EarthRanger technology at Liwonde National Park has seen a dramatic improvement in security of endangered species. Lawrence Munro Field Operations Manager for African Parks said in 2018, 26 animals including lions, cheetahs and elephants were fitted with tracking chips or collars. This has led to 24/7 surveillance of animals and poachers have been kept at bay.

 

He further said the wire snares used to trap animals in the park, have significantly dropped as the whole park is under strict surveillance and security cameras strategically located in the park send pictures of trespassers to the control centre. Since poaching has been kept under check, large mammal numbers have increased by 6000 from 2016.

 

Good management of the park and other game reserves under African Parks has seen an upsurge of tourists visiting the country. Reid disclosed a 20% increase in the number of tourists flocking into the country. He said over 20,000 tourists visited Liwonde National Park and other tourist attraction sites.

 

‘Since 2016 we have managed to proactively flush out poachers from the park. This technology is amazing for instance in the last five years no elephant has been lost at Majete, which also deployed the same technology. As we conserve wildlife and their habitant we are also creating employment opportunities to the surrounding community and the whole tourism sector at large,” said Munro.

 

Also testifying on the effectiveness of EarthRanger is a board member for Upper Shire Association for the Conservation of Liwonde National Park, Various Donzani. He said the surrounding community depends on agriculture for their economic livelihoods. The human-animal conflict that existed in the previous years left a negative impact but now things have changed.

 

 

Various Donzani (Middle) being interviewed by journalists

 

He said, “I can proudly say we have experienced three years of good harvests from our fields. Even those who are engaged in irrigation farming didn’t experience problems with elephants that usually damage their crops. This newly adopted technology, EarthRanger, is really helping to track animal movements and re-direct them before they wreck havoc.”

 

Way forward

 

To consolidate the gains made with EarthRanger and to avoid a repetition of the persistent human-animal conflict around Liwonde National Park as was the case in the past, David Nangoma, African Parks’ Community extension Officer said his organisation will continue working hand in hand with the community.


He said, “Moving forward, as an organisation we will ensure that there’s constant touch with members of the community in terms of sharing information for protection of their own lives as well as the animals.”

 

African Parks also pledged:

 

• Continous monitoring of wild animals through the EarthRanger technology and sharing the same with the community to avert catastrophic consequences.

• Continous provision of civic education to community members.
• Reinforcement of the electric fence to keep the big five from reigning terror in surrounding villages.
• Real time data sharing with rangers on patrol and speedy backstopping services whenever there’s a problem.
• To increase number of collared big mammals for easy tracking.

 

African Parks representative using the device to access

proximity of lions

 

 In a separate interview with Director for National Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa said rampant destruction of natural resources and poaching was also exacerbated by weak laws governing the same. He cited amendment of National Parks and Wildlife Bill as a bold step towards protection of wildlife.

 

He narrates: “Prior to 2013, you could hardly get wildlife criminal sentenced to go to jail. It was a small fine of $40 maximum. Now, the law prescribes stiffer penalties, for example, a jail term of 30 years with no option of fine if one is convicted of poaching protected species like elephants and rhinos. We have seen this happening. This is an achievement in a case where it never happened.”

 

“It was very hard to get wildlife criminals sentenced to jail. Even the court fees for such crimes were just rock bottom. The 2016 amendments empower courts to impose stiffer penalties to act as deterrents to would be offenders,” said Kumchedwa.


Section 110 B of the amended National Parks and Wildlife Act 2016 reads in part:

Any person who is convicted of an offence involving— (e) taking, hunting, molesting, or reducing into possession any listed species;
(f) possession of, selling, buying, transferring or receiving in transfer or attempting to possess, sell, buy, transfer or receive in transfer any specimen of listed species; or


(g) contravention of provision of this Act which provides for the conduct of a licensee under a professional hunter’s license, “Offences relating to listed species Insertion of s.110A and 110B into the principal Act “Offences relating to endangered species 11 shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of thirty years.”

 

 

A security camera linked to EarthRanger in Liwonde National Park

 

The Ministry of Trade confirmed that in 2017 the country’s Tourism sector created 235,000 jobs and a total revenue of K1 billion. The EarthRanger has been deployed in Malawi and other African countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Currently it covers over 56,000 km2 of protected area across Africa. Surely EarthRanger technology has brought a new dimension in conservation of wildlife.

 

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