Kenya trials text message alerts in bid to curb poaching

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Security officials at Kenya Wildlife Service hope system will help national parks reduce poaching by up to 90%

Kenya's wildlife agency is installing an alarm system that alerts rangers to possible poachings by text message, following the shooting of an entire family of 11 elephants.

Security officials at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) hope that the system, connected to fences around parks and wildlife sanctuaries, will help reduce poaching by up to 90%.

When an animal interferes with the fence or a person tries to tear down the fence, the alarm produces a very loud sound which is relayed to the security switchboard as an SMS message and shows the location. Reinforcement is then sent to the affected area.

But Patrick Omondi, head of the species department at KWS, said that putting the alarm system in all parks is impossible since the costs would be huge and some are not wholly fenced in.

"Some parks are very big and the idea would only work in conservancies which have a much smaller land area," he said.

Tsavo national park, where the recent killings took place, is about the size of Belgium. Paul Udoto, communications officer at KWS, said that conflict between local people and wildlife has previously been the main issue at the park rather than poaching, and has historically been dealt with by solar-powered electric fences.

Omondi added that technology will be a key tool in future efforts to curb poaching.

"For example, Kenya adopted a DNA-profiling technology from South Africa called the rhinoceros DNA index. In case a rhino horn is intercepted in any part of the world, KWS can profile the root of the horn," Omondi said. In December, Google gave conservation group WWF $5m to use drones to track poaching of rhinos and elephants.

Last year, more than 1,000 rhinos and more than 1,000 elephants were lost to poaching in Africa, driven in large part by demand from south-east Asia.

Kenya alone lost more than 360 elephants, according to government figures, and on Thursday figures from the South African government showed the country had suffered a record 668 rhino deaths from poaching, up by almost 50% on 2011's figures.