Falling wildlife numbers are driven by causes ranging from poaching and illegal trade to disease, habitat destruction and other effects linked to climate change. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth about $20 billion a year, underlining the scale of the issue.
Elephant tusks, rhino horn and pangolin scales are among the goods predominantly trafficked from Africa with the continent’s iconic species being illegally commoditised by an increasingly sophisticated poaching industry.
And now, several African countries are not only deploying high-tech solutions but looking to upgrade their tourism appeal through unique, sustainable wildlife exploration offerings.
Technological innovation has proven a vital tool in wildlife conservation efforts. Technology has enabled conservationists to better understand wildlife, as well as the threats it faces.
In Kenya, the Ol Pejeta conservancy, in partnership with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Liquid Telecom and Arm, last year launched a state-of-the-art wildlife protection technology laboratory.
Ol Pejeta is home to two of the world’s few remaining northern white rhinos and takes the lead in black rhino conservation.
There, rhinos can now be fitted with horn implants for real-time tracking, replacing the bulky traditional collars.
Conservationists can now monitor all animals 24 hours a day, as well as track their health, body temperatures and migratory patterns.
The Kifaru Rising project — a multi-year collaboration between the WWF and thermal camera manufacturer FLIR Systems — will deploy thermal imaging technology to eliminate rhino poaching in 10 parks in Kenya by 2021. The cameras have heat sensors capable of detecting tiny differences in temperature, making it easy to detect experienced poachers, who often work at night.
According to the WWF, when the project was piloted at the Maasai Mara national park in 2016, some 160 poachers were arrested in two years.
As governments in Sub-Saharan Africa prioritise infrastructure and industrialisation, wildlife’s contribution to GDP and sustainable growth, primarily through responsible or high-end tourism, cannot be overlooked.
Rwanda’s unique approach to developing its gorilla tourism industry has turned it into one of the most upmarket holiday destinations on the continent. Permits for the experience for non-residents cost $1,500 and, despite the hefty price tag, visitors to the gorilla hotspot have increased by over 80 per cent over the past decade. The industry is estimated to generate $500 million annually.
Recognising the revenue-generating potential of sustainable wildlife tourism could drive more robust government commitment to protecting it.
The crux of such an endeavour lies in seamless inter-agency cooperation, backed by technological innovation, and is premised on collaboration with revenue authorities, customs departments and law enforcement more broadly.
Such synergies, coupled with the potential for regional information and best practice exchange, can prove to be game changers in wildlife protection.
Ms Kinyua is a senior communications and sustainability consultant at Africa Practice East Africa Ltd. [email protected]