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Combating rhino poaching with real-time monitoring and deep data insights

16 Jul 2020
Ol Pejeta is combating rhino poaching with real-time monitoring and deep data insights from EarthRanger and Tableau

Envisioning a world where 2,000 rhinos roam freely in Kenya
Situated at the foothills of the Aberdares range and Mount Kenya, Ol Pejeta Conservancy provides sanctuary for the incredibly diverse wildlife living in the Conservancy including rhinos, chimpanzees, elephants, oryxes, giraffes and zebras. In an area of roughly the size of Detroit or Philadelphia, Ol Pejeta 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.
 
With a vision of one day Kenya being the place where 2,000 rhinos can roam freely, Ol Pejeta is doing their part – the conservancy 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.

Photo credit: Ian Aitken                                                            
Photo credit: Jaymin Patel
Photo credit: Jes Lefcourt
Photo credit: Rio the Photographer

Being deliberate about technology adoption
There is a deep sense of responsibility in the measures that Ol Pejeta Conservancy takes in protecting both the wildlife and its staff. This responsibility reflects in their desire to be efficient with the use of resources, but also in their approach to using and vetting technology for deployment for their anti-poaching efforts.

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.

Planning, adjusting and amplifying ranger patrols with contextual, real time information 
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.
 
It’s great to have all these options, but it gets overwhelming to know where to look for what information, quickly. Because EarthRanger integrates all these inputs, it helps us see everything on the same screen and in full context – it’s so much easier for us to not have to juggle so many different systems and so much quicker to make the right decisions”, adds Samuel Mutisya, Head of Conservation at Ol Pejeta.

Rhinos and rangers at Ol Pejeta
Photo credit: Ian Aitken

  • 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 Mutisya.


Photo credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy 

Combining real time and historical data with Tableau
In the fall of 2019, EarthRanger released a tight integration with the leading data analytics and business intelligence software, Tableau. As part of this partnership, protected areas who implement EarthRanger also have access to a three-year free license of Tableau, provided via the Tableau Foundation.

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.”

The first internal client of the Tableau integration was the Wildlife and Monitoring team, but the future is open for the ecological monitoring team to look at both EarthRanger and Tableau for tracking not just rhinos, but many of the other wildlife in the conservancy.
Protecting rhinos and other wildlife means monitoring the fence that keeps them enclosed in the boma. Ol Pejeta can track when the fence experiences outages or what time of the year it’s most likely to be subjected to human or animal incursions. Photo source: Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Water resources being scarce, monitoring the levels available is important for the health of wildlife in the conservancy, and an indicator on incoming wildlife migrations from other regions. Photo credit: Ol Pejeta‚Äč Conservancy.
Learn more
COVID-19 and the lack of tourism is placing a strain on Ol Pejeta, who relies on a steady stream of visitors to help fund its operations. They have answered this challenge with resilience and imagination. They started a series of broadcasts called Sofa Safaris, to encourage lovers of wildlife to keep them in mind and to continue to plan on visiting when the pandemic ends.

Ol Pejeta is also very active on social media, where you can see beautiful photos of their wildlife and fall in love with the rhinos and the beautiful landscape. You can support their efforts here.