GPS is Changing the Game For Kenya’s Wildlife

white_rhinos_gpsWe’ve talked about a variety of wildlife being monitored with GPS trackers. Whether it’s the urban fox population in Canada, wolves in California, or moose in Maine, GPS trackers are the best way to get accurate data about the habits of the animals. But in some cases, it just isn’t enough.

What about big game like the wildlife found in Kenya? The elephants and rhinos there are at a high risk of poaching. Each day in Africa, a total of 96 elephants are killed, and a rhino becomes a victim every 11 hours! Park rangers try their best to keep it from happening, but even the rangers are at risk: poachers have been known to kill rangers in order to avoid prosecution. In the past three years, poachers have killed 13 rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

It’s All About The Ivory

Referred to as “white gold” in China, ivory is the reason poachers seek out these endangered creatures. The rhinos are slaughtered for their horns, which sell on the black market for about $30,000 a pound according to the African Wildlife Foundation. Have a horn from a white rhino? Those sell for as much as $390,000!

Even Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are standing behind Kenya with an initiative to put an end to illegal ivory once and for all, joining forces with the Wildlife Conservation Society in an $80 million dollar campaign.

The Problem

Both the U.S. and African governments possess seized ivory, but neither have plans to sell it. In fact, the U.S. planned on destroying the ivory they possess, all six tons of it, at the beginning of this month. However, the government shutdown postponed it until November 14. Kenya burns their seized ivory. Destroying and burning the ivory is supposed to be sending a message to poachers that it is worthless.

However, people in China find both the ivory and rhino horns to be extremely valuable. With the economy there thriving, more people have money to buy these illegal items. In Vietnam, there is a belief that rhino horns actually cure cancer. The issue lies in the fact that as the horns and ivory become more rare, the price will skyrocket, making it even more tempting for poachers.

Tools To Combat Poachers

So how are Kenyan conservationists fighting back? One tool in a ranger’s arsenal is a dog. Just as dogs in airports sniff baggage for drugs and weapons, Kenya Wildlife Services K-9 unit uses the dogs to seek out illegal ivory and rhino horns, each with their own distinct scent that the dog’s sensitive sense of smell can pick up on. The addition of the dogs to the team has helped them in their war on poachers, and a total of 39 people have been arrested of suspected poaching.

Other tools of the trade include high-tech items like night-vision goggles, helicopters, and GPS trackers. Although these tools can often catch the poachers in the act, it’s the poachers they aren’t catching that the dogs can. In the near future, Kenya will be implanting microchips with GPS tracking technology in the horns of every white rhino. Hopefully, this will help put an end to senseless rhino poaching.


Photo Courtesy of Abi Skipp Through Flickr Creative Commons