Field Reports: Counter-Poaching at Tsavo East Park, Kenya

17 June 2016 by Kenn Burnett

Recently IFAW sponsored the tenBoma project, an effort to improve reporting, tracking, and enforcement to counter wildlife crime in Kenya. Fulcrum is playing a key role on the ground to help the Kenyan Wildlife Services (KWS) catalog events associated with poaching activities. For the last several months, KWS personnel have been using Fulcrum for on-the-ground event tracking and counter-poaching investigations. During a recent trip to Voi, Kenya, near the Tsavo East National Park, I had to pleasure of working with KWS personnel and a team from Agile Analytics Group to assist in workflow development and field collection process. During the trip we refined the Service’s workflows, and how Fulcrum could better be used to support operations.

Elephants in Tsavo Park

The overall goal of the visit was to work with the staff on location to help train them on field data collection best practices, how to deploy and manage Fulcrum as a field investigations tool, and also show how the data once plotted on a map can be put in a spatial context with other geospatial data to answer questions and better manage their operations personnel.

After initial introductions to the existing operations, one of the first requirements identified was the need for tracking the status of work, which we set up using status fields. The KWS needed a way to indicate attention was needed in an area, usually from some kind of report of illegal activity. Using the status fields in Fulcrum, they can now create new reports (from field or HQ), tell whether they’ve been reviewed, and tell when they’ve been responded to. The use of status fields in Fulcrum has sped up the time it takes for agents to react to reports and prioritize investigative work in the field.

Of course poaching covers many species in addition to elephants. There are gazelles, impalas, and hundreds of animals at risk of becoming bush meat. Another common related problem the spread of illegal charcoal production. Because of the variability of observations that need to be recorded, building picklists helped to make the capture workflow as fast as possible for agents who may be in a truck or on the move during data collection. An agent in the field or analyst back in HQ can now quickly catalog a report for immediate dissemination. KWS users of Fulcrum can choose from mammals or reptiles and sub-species very quickly. Users can also choose the type of offense and general location from picklists.

Lion Hill Lodge in Voi

The Lion Hill Lodge at Tsavo East

We further demonstrated how agents from both the HQ and in the field can use the search functions in Fulcrum to match perpetrators or modus operandi to different areas within Kenya. The catalog and search functions will no doubt have a profound affect on counter poaching efforts in the future, since field investigators will have better visibility into what other teams are doing. Even these modest information-sharing capabilities add immense transparency that wasn’t previously possible in their sparse environment.

Gone are the days of miscommunicated names of perpetrators relayed over radios or cell phones. Misspellings can lead to missed opportunities to capture wanted persons. The agent now has the power to relay the correct spellings and speed the capture of poachers and criminals. No longer do agents need to keep notebooks full of information and transfer to reports upon return to the office. The information is captured immediately, in the correct format and transferred to appropriate destination immediately. With these new tools, collection methods, and data sharing practices, KWS has been empowered to tackle the challenge of connecting the dots and preventing poaching before it happens.

About the author

Kenn manages special projects for Spatial Networks, specializing in field data collection, post-processing, and geospatial analysis.

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