Africa’s wildlife is continuously under threat. The northern white rhino is now considered extinct, with only three non breeding Rhino remaining. Elephant populations are quickly diminishing and many other animals are at risk from trafficking. The Pangolin, possibly the cutest of the African mammals (subjective view/adorable video below) and most trafficked African mammal, has recently received protection from being traded. We have all seen the gory pictures of Rhino’s laying sadly deceased with their horn cut off, but what is being done to stop this disgraceful trade in animals and animal parts. Drones have been well documented as being deployed in search of poachers and digital radio and GPS capabilities have helped make the fight more efficient, but what other innovations are being used?

Kenya is at the forefront of this fight against poaching and one method they are using employs dogs to sniff out ivory. We have written previously about animals helping us against disease and land mine risks, but this time they are put into action to help their fellow animals. Dogs are put into action in the Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, and scramble over the suitcases on the conveyor belt to check for ivory on its way to be smuggled out of the country. When Asha, an English springer spaniel sits next to a piece of luggage, it is extremely likely to contain ivory. She is then rewarded and moves on with her search! 8 dogs have been deployed across Kenya’s ports and another 8 will be deployed in Uganda and Mozambique.  By shutting down the export routes, it is hoped that those smuggling the ivory will be dissuaded. The dogs are also able to find other wildlife products including the scales of Pangolins, so they are making a huge impact on the trade.

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Kenyan sniffer dog searches for ivory – Photo by AWF

Another innovation used by Kenya is the fight against the illegal trade in animal parts uses US military software, which was originally used to trace improvised explosive devices in conflict zones. The software analyses and predicts where poachers are most likely to carry out illegal operations. It uses existing data on animal mortality, weather info and GPS data from collared elephants in order find those that make the most dramatic effect on the elephant population. The programme is known as #tenBoma and run by the International Fund for Animal welfare, who do great work across the world protecting animals from humans!

You just have to watch some of David Attenborough’s beautiful documentaries to see that camera footage is becoming more and more advanced. In one documentary they see the unusual night time behaviour of Rhino’s around a waterhole, in which they were  surprised at the usually grumpy animal’s social nature. The advancement in thermal imaging technology has also been put into use in Kenya. With the technology, which has been supported by google.org, anti WWF poaching patrols are able to spot poachers in the night up to 2 kilometres away. The camera’s consist of a mobile unit and stationary cameras set up around the border of the parks. The accompanying software is able to determine whether it is an animal or a human that is within the field of view. If a human is detected an alert is sent to the head ranger and a patrol is sent out immediately to the location.

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Thermal imaging display from WWF

Advances in DNA analyses are also helping the fight. With DNA analyses, it is possible to track the ivory back to specific locations and therefore pin point poaching hotspots and then focus enforcement on the area. DNA analyses of ivory has been pioneered by Samuel Wasser at the University of Washington. Last year, they identified 4 major hotspots in which ivory was coming from. The more specific this system become, the more efficient the battle against poachers.

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Rhino horns are becoming more and more valuable

One other idea is to flood the market with realistic fake Rhino horns. Using biotechnology to exploit the rhino’s DNA scientists at Pembient have come up with an almost perfect replica of the Rhino horn. They think that by putting their product on the market at a lower price, it will deter poachers from going through the hassle of killing animals. There is opposition to this option though, as some think that it will be hard to find the real poachers with the fake horns on the market.

The worlds animals are constantly under threat from human behaviour and perceived needs. The lessons from Africa’s fight against the heartless murder and trafficking of innocent animals can be shared and taken on by the rest of the world to protect our nature. If you have any other ideas to stop poaching let us know by commenting and please share the blog on Twitter and Facebook

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