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Smart Technology Helps Thwart Poaching

  • Kim Lewis

Satao, one of the largest elephants in Africa, was killed by poachers for his ivory tusks on May 30, 2014.

Satao, one of the largest elephants in Africa, was killed by poachers for his ivory tusks on May 30, 2014.

A report recently launched reveals how smart technology can stop armed groups from slaughtering elephants for ivory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report comes from the Enough Project, the Satellite Sentinel Project, the African Parks and DigitalGlobe,

The authors announced that new satellite imaging and geospatial mapping has identified that ivory trafficking in the Garamba National Park is funding armed groups that are responsible for widespread atrocities occurring in and around the area. The militant groups involved in the poaching include the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); armed groups from South Sudan, Sudan and renegade groups from the Congolese National Army.

The images also reveal that the armed groups themselves are using sophisticated techniques to evade detection of their poaching and trafficking activities.

“The imagery shows there has been a dramatic rise in poaching in Garamba National Park over the last nine years,” said Sasha Lezhnev, associate director of policy at the Enough Project in Washington, D.C. Lezhnev said their satellite imagery pin-points “some of the locations where the elephant poaching is occurring …” The Enough Project provides information that will help park rangers track elephants, predict poacher movements and track down and capture the poachers.

“We’ve partnered with park rangers, Africa Parks, to help them try to track where such poaching might occur so that they can deploy their new helicopter and any other tools available to combat those efforts which are increasingly high-tech,” said Lezhnev.

Based on this and other earlier studies, the Enough Project and its partners found that illegally traded ivory is the new life line for the LRA and other militant groups.

“Joseph Kony, the LRA’s leader, has ordered different combatants to save elephant tusks after they kill the elephants,” said Leshnev. There are other poachers as well that use helicopters. The Congolese army has both been involved in combating poaching as well as being involved in poaching, and they’re South Sudanese poachers as well,” Lezhnev revealed.

Despite access to satellite data, most park rangers are at a technological disadvantage. But Garamba National Park now has their own helicopter, donated by Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Howard Buffett is the son of billionaire-philanthropist Warren Buffett.

“But really, the United Nations needs to do more on this, particularly to increase defection efforts from the LRA. And the U.S. should provide increased assistance to the park rangers on the ground. The elephants may disappear from Garamba altogether so we want to prevent that from happening,” said Lezhnev.

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