It’s an ambitious target - eliminate rhino poaching in Kenya by 2021. But that’s exactly what the Kifaru Rising Project aims to achieve, by deploying thermal imaging technology to help improve ranger safety and give rangers teams a competitive advantage over poachers. Ol Pejeta is one of 10 conservancies, parks and reserves involved in the project, which is a collaboration between NGOs, the Kenya Wildlife Service and FLIR Systems, a global leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of thermal imaging cameras.
Kenya has the third-highest number of black rhinos in Africa, with Ol Pejeta home to about 130 of the country’s entire population. Rhino horn is worth more per kilogram on the black market than gold, and poaching syndicates are using increasingly sophisticated technology to carry out their crimes - most often working under the cover of darkness. Traditionally, rangers in Ol Pejeta and elsewhere have relied on torchlight to patrol at night, which can be easily evaded by poachers lying in thick grass or shrub.
To try and meet this challenge, FLIR thermal cameras were trialed in Lake Nakuru National Park and the Mara Triangle Conservancy in 2016, as part of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project. In Maasai Mara alone, local authorities arrested more than 160 poachers using this new technology. It was so successful, that the Kifaru Rising Project was launched to scale this technology to other parks, reserves and conservancies with high densities of rhino, including Ol Pejeta. Lake Nakuru National Park, Solio Game Reserve, Meru National Park, Ruma National Park, Nairobi National Park, Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks are also included.
FLIR has donated a variety of thermal imaging cameras to the project, including law enforcement-grade handheld cameras, fix mounted perimeter security cameras, drone cameras, automotive, and maritime cameras depending on the needs of each area.
“We can’t save rhinos if we don’t stop poaching,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “The real heroes in this fight are rangers – men and women who… put their lives at risk to stop those who are often better armed and operating in the dead of night. New technologies help change the game; they give rangers a leg-up in deterring criminals and protecting themselves on the front lines.”
A grant from WWF is supporting the infrastructure needed for the FLIR cameras to be installed. This includes masts, fiber optics, and a fence to protect the masts from elephant damage.
Thermal imaging cameras along the perimeter will be of great significance to us, the live transmission will help us know the exact points of intrusion instantly for quick responses, which greatly reduces our work load of physically patrolling the fenceline says Barnabas the armed security team administrator.