A five day United Nations Office for outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) conference started on June 27, 2016 at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi with a focus on the contribution of space-based technologies in wildlife management and biodiversity conservation.
In a key-note address to the delegates attending the conference, entitled “Wildlife Management and Biodiversity: The Issues”, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director General Mr. Kitili Mbathi observed that Kenya has tremendous biodiversity wealth found in forests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and deserts that requires cutting-edge technology to conserve.
Kenya has undertaken many initiatives in an effort to conserve and protect its biodiversity. These include the formation of Kenya's National Environment Secretariat (NES) in 1971. NES had the mandate of coordinating and catalyzing environmental conservation and management in Kenya.
With regard to forest cover, Mbathi observed that Kenya's new constitution aims to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least 10% of Kenya's land mass. In its development blueprint of 2007-2030, Kenya aims to be a nation living in a clean, secure and sustainable environment by 2030.
KWS, has been using space-based technologies in its work to some degree. At the security level over 1,000 rangers have been trained in the use of Global Positioning Systems. These rangers are able to record important wildlife related incidents that they come across during their normal patrols. The incidents they come across may for instance be a poached elephant, illegal harvesting of a rare plant species, human wildlife conflict, logging or banditry.
In the Tsavo, which is Kenya's key conservation area, KWS in collaboration with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is using a collaborative geospatial monitoring platform to get collected data and analyse it to help with identification of poaching associated indicators. Patterns in poaching related activities are being studied to enable KWS to intercept poachers prior to their slaughter of wildlife.
With stakeholders such as Zoological Society of London and Google, KWS has also at a small scale started to fight illegal trade in endangered wildlife through real-time surveillance of remote landscapes using camera traps and instantaneous satellite data transmission.
In addition, and in collaboration with Stimson and Linkoping University of Sweden, it is using a smart phone based command control and communications (C3) platform to combat poaching.
In the Mount Kenya Ecosystem, KWS in partnership with Rhino Ark and Environmental Systems Research Institute Eastern Africa (ESRIEA) is beginning to use a near-real-time Ranger Patrol System using GPS and ArcGIS software.
KWS has also been exploring the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) although there still remain some issues to sort out with Kenya's Department of Defence.
At the scientific front, KWS with some of its partners that include Save the Elephant (STE), World wildlife Fund for Nature, Kenyan office (WWF-K), African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), University of Twente (Netherlands) and Leiden University (Netherlands) is using satellite-linked GPS collars to track various wildlife species such as elephants, lions, wildebeest, cheetah and wild dog.
KWS with support from University of Twente, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) has set up the GEONETCAST Toolkits at Tsavo East Research Station and KWS Headquarters to facilitate easy import of various satellite and environmental data/products, for example, rainfall, Temperature, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index; Land Cover, Enhanced Vegetation Index among others, that are disseminated via GEONETCast, into a common GIS environment.
These products can be easily used with wildlife movement data to model and identify suitable habitats for wildlife. Further, under the European Union funded Monitoring of Environment and Security in Africa (MESA) Programme, KWS in partnership with Inter-Governmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) Climate and Prediction Application Centre (ICPAC) has started to undertake land cover mapping inside Kenya's wildlife protected areas and also in their surroundings.