In an area of roughly the size of Detroit or Philadelphia, Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to 18% of Kenya’s rhinos. This marks the single largest breeding population of rhinos, an animal that is both deeply connected to Kenyan national pride and one of the most intensively protected species in the country and throughout the continent.
Ol Pejeta now houses 135 of the world’s critically endangered black rhinos, 35 southern white rhinos and the last two remaining female northern white rhinos, recently in the news because of the artificial insemination attempt to prevent their extinction.
After being active participants in the WILDLABS.NET community for many years, Ol Pejeta, working with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), established their in-house Conservation Tech Lab, aimed at testing out new solutions to help their conservation efforts. The lab acts as a field-based space for technologist and scientists to test and deploy sensors, hardware and software, but also as a center for collaboration, learning and sharing that knowledge.
“There’s a great future for technology in conservation and there are great solutions out there, but they change so rapidly that attempting to chase every ‘new shiny thing’ would compromise impact. We prefer to spend the time to select a system that solves a problem for us and can be extended in the future rather than reimplement a different technology every few months or years”, explains William Njoroge, Head of Technology at Ol Pejeta.
Ol Pejeta has a wealth of different technologies with different roles in wildlife protection: from government systems to VHF and satellite-based collars for animals to tracking devices for rangers and many others that aim to aid in making decisions, including EarthRanger.
“These capabilities give us more room to make decisions that are guided and more likely to give us results and save ranger lives” - Samuel Mutisya, Head of Conservation at Ol Pejeta
- Identifying patrol gaps and planning patrols: The conservancy has over 150 field staff operate in teams both during the day and during the night. Any gaps in this patrol effort can be exploited to harm animals. EarthRanger provides the location information to accurately monitor where personnel are located in order to supervise and protect them, but also watch how these teams cover the full space of almost 400 sq km of the protected area. “EarthRanger can help us figure out those gaps in our patrolling almost in a click of a button and this is critical for us”, says Mutisya.
- Securing ranger patrols and information: In their technology journey, Ol Pejeta had first deployed an analog system for field comms. There were several issues with this initial approach: first, the signal often had a lot of noise and it was hard to hear rangers; second, and most important, anyone with a hand radio could potentially find the frequency of ranger communications and listen in to their calls. Since then, the Conservation Tech Lab has moved ranger comms to a very secure digital system that solves the noise issue and is encrypted end to end. As an integrator of many systems, EarthRanger was also selected because it imposes the same stringent requirements for all the data it stores and displays.
- Reacting and responding to real-life incidents: Before EarthRanger, in the event of an incident out in the field, the operations team had a hard time determining location of the ranger if they were attacked and couldn't speak. The combination of the digital radio and direct link to EarthRanger has enabled Ol Pejeta teams to respond to emergencies by having the exact GPS location. Their teams can plan deployment, supervise what's happening in the field, and have a complete history of patrols and incidents. “These capabilities give us more room to make decisions that are guided and more likely to give us results and save ranger lives”, adds Samuel Mutisya, Head of Conservation at Ol Pejeta.
In October of 2019, Ol Pejeta was one of the early adopters of the EarthRanger-Tableau integration. Eager to expand and help their tech answer new questions, Kennedy Muriithi, an IT Engineer on Njoroge’s technology team, embarked on a journey to learn and be trained on Tableau. Today, with a list of growing reports in store, Njoroge sees this new functionality in a brand new light: “Using Tableau with our EarthRanger and historical data really enables us to play around with data a bit more - we can finally use stored data that hasn't been well manipulated and truly enhance the capacity and quality of work that comes along with our use of EarthRanger.”
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