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Technology - Pushing the Boundaries of Law Enforcement

For 2 years I have been working as a G.I.S Analyst and Technology Projects Officer, under WWF Zambia's Wildlife Programme and I am excited by how much technology can improve conservation efforts - it is a game changer!

The Kafue National Park (KNP) has the second largest population of wild elephants in Zambia. However, it has limited human and financial resources to provide adequate monitoring across a vast wildlife landscape of approximately 22,000km2. As a result, the park faces great challenges of poaching for; ivory, bush meat, and illegal wildlife trade.
After securing authorization from the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), the forerunner to the current Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in 2016, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Zambia embarked on a project called Kafue National Park Connected Conservation (KNP CCP) – a project  that integrates the internet and cutting-edge computing with a smart network of tactically deployed sensors and systems, to enable DNPW to intelligently detect and respond to poaching threats, before poaching takes place. To this end, leading technology companies such as CISCO, FLIR, and SMART Parks came together to provide vital communications and surveillance hardware and software focused on protecting the population of elephants and key species in poaching hotspots in the Kafue National Park.  

Through DNPW, partners on the project identified an area on Lake Itezhi-Tezhi that was thought to be the most popular, and having identified this area, we went on to construct an anti-poaching control room and erect 4 masts across Lake Itezhi-tezhi with various cutting-edge technology and equipment, donated by leading technology companies. The erected masts across the lake created a virtual fence line covering about 20 kilometers, and composed of FLIR thermal fixed and pan and tilt cameras with a range of 5 kilometers, connected by a combination of a wide-area and Wi-Fi networks to the anti-poaching control room - enabling 24/7 real time surveillance for law enforcement in the area. So far, this project is changing how ecosystems, endangered and flagship species are protected.

Immediate successes of this project are that; poaching for ivory has significantly reduced by almost 50% compared to the 2015 baseline; communication in and around the Southern Kafue Ecosystem, comprising Kafue National Park and Game management Area (Nkala, Mumbwa, Namwala and part of Bilili) has improved through the installation of a modern digital radio communication system that provides a coverage of about 8,000km2; and coordination of patrol teams with the control room operators has been enhanced, resulting in improved safety of scouts and rangers during patrols.

© Brian Chilambe
Thermal image of elephants feeding at night on the shore of Lake Itezhi tezhi.

Currently, we are planning to integrate geo-location systems’ using LoRaWAN™ network’s which are cost-effective, energy-efficient and have an added advantage of long-distance connectivity (up to 30 km), to monitor the real-time movement of elephants, people, environmental variables and assets in KNP. The detailed data captured from the systems will be transmitted from the sensors within the network, to the anti-poaching control room where the tracked items will appear on a digital map.

Map showing the design of the connected conservation project and LoRaWAN technology.

The KNP CCP has proven that technology is a game-changer in law enforcement as it extends the reach of rangers in protected areas, it has made life easier and safer for law enforcement officers and elephants in KNP, and has improved communication and security. So far, a habitat area of about 400km2 is protected and secured under intensive 24/7 surveillance for law enforcement.

Finally, this initiative is also providing early warning services to farmers and the communities to mitigate human wildlife conflict in Nkala Game Management Area, and therefore, enabling people to live with wildlife effectively. I invite you to support our goal of reducing by at least 80% of all forms of poaching in Kafue National Park by 2023 through deploying a modern surveillance and communication infrastructure in the Kafue ecosystem. For more details on this, please email: bchilambe@wwfzam.org.

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This article was written by WWF Zambia's Wildlife Programme G.I.S Analyst and Technology Projects Officer.