GPS minimizes animal-human conflict in Africa

Rising compensation claims are a result of population increase, drought and hard economic times

The Africa Wildlife Foundation uses GPS technology to ease conflict between wild animals and humans.

The Africa Wildlife Foundation uses GPS technology to ease conflict between wild animals and humans.

The Africa Wildlife Foundation has devised a way to use GPS technology to curb rising conflict between wild animals and humans as well as tackle an ongoing problem with poachers.

Every year, African governments are faced with increasing compensation claims from relatives of people killed and maimed by wild animals.

The rising compensation claims are a result of population increase, drought and hard economic times that have forced communities to compete for resources with wild animals, in the process triggering violent encounters.

To monitor interaction between wildlife and communities, AWF is using collaring technology, where an animal is fitted with a GPS device to monitor its movement, said Steven Kiruswa, Maasai Steppe Heartland director for the AWF.

Elephants, for example, are notorious for following the same migration route every year, whether or not there are homes or crops in their way. This means residents in the migratory route are trampled and crops destroyed.

The technology is used to monitor elephants, lions and zebras as well as other endangered species in 11 African countries. In East Africa, the collars are used in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and Tarangire National Park in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania.

"The animals migrating between Kenya and Tanzania face a huge challenge because the migratory route is blocked on the Kenyan side, which leads to conflict," added Kiruswa.

Because lions, elephants and zebras move in groups, the collars are fitted on one member of the group; which helps the wildlife rangers monitor the movement and respond quickly in case of an attack.

The communities are also supplied with two-way radios that allow them to report to wildlife rangers in case the animals stray to human settlements. Once an incident is reported, the wildlife field coordinator can dispatch the nearest team of rangers to scare the animals.

"Apart from controlling the movement, the collar helps in determining whether the animal is facing danger from poachers, who plague many endangered species in Africa," said Kiruswa.

In East Africa, AWF works with communities, governments and the private sector under the Hifadhi Network, in which local game scouts are recruited from Maasai communities. These scouts conduct patrols and apprehend poachers in key wildlife areas where wildlife are illegally hunted for bushmeat. Since 2003, the network has arrested 50 poachers.

Currently, technology is helping lions, elephants, rhinos and zebras in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botwsana and Sierra Leone.

The GPS collaring technology has also helped Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique monitor the movement of the 23,000 elephants that roam in the Zambezi Heartland, one of Africa's largest elephant populations.

Alfred Kikoti, a researcher with AWF, has conducted the collaring process across the region with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enabled AWF to bring together wildlife authorities from the three countries to develop a Heartland-wide management strategy for the elephants.

"The collaring project aims to gain a greater understanding of the ecology of animals in the region, and to initiate community conservation programs within the communities," Kikoti said.

The AWF has also put in place preventive mechanisms, such as electric fencing and use of chain links, to prevent lions attacking livestock, said Bernard Kissui, a research scientist with AWF.

"In case wildlife attacks communities and kills livestock, there are retaliatory attacks like killing with spears, guns, and poisoning," Kissui noted.

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Rebecca Wanjiku

IDG News Service/Boston Bureau

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