In Africa, technology is the final weapon in the deadly poaching war

By Clair MacDougall—Wired—May 2, 2018—

As day bleeds into night in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Ntayia Lema Langas, the deputy warden of the Mara Conservancy, barrels across the landscape in a Land Rover flanked by rangers, crossing an invisible border into neighbouring Tanzania.

A pickup full of Tanzanian rangers heading back across the border stops and the vehicles’ occupants greet each other. A senior officer shows photographs of poachers they had arrested earlier in the day at a makeshift camp. He flicks through photographs on his smartphone of hacked zebra meat, spread out on the dry grassland.

After the brief meeting, 30-year-old Langas continues the journey with his troops. They park behind shrubs at two strategic points facing an escarpment. A tiny sliver of Moon smiles high in the black sky while flashes of torchlight twinkle in the distance. Sylvia Nashipai, a 24-year-old ranger who joined the conservancy in 2016, stands in front of the car, the other rangers scanning the escarpment for torchlight and movement.

The expanse of savannah breathes gently as crickets chirp, the calm broken by the occasional crackle from the radio followed by directives from Langas. He scans the area through a forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR) strapped on to his car, and a monitor used to follow the images and direct the camera. Before, the rangers used torches, radios and their naked eyes and ears. Now they use the infrared camera and handheld thermal cameras that can detect the body heat of poachers and animals up to three kilometres away. Armed with this information, Langas’s rangers can chase and apprehend them in under an hour.

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