Innovate4Wildlife

Last year in December we had a chance to innovate for the unluckiest of beings. We innovated for wildlife, partnering with Wildlife Direct, we gathered experts in different fields – conservationists, community workers, engineers, county administration, Kenya Wildlife Service, community members, and more, and held the “Innovate4wildlife” workshop at Amboseli in a bid to seek innovative solutions towards human-wildlife conflict (HWC).

Participants at the workshop 

Participants at the workshop 

Over the past few years, human interest in farming and livestock keeping has affected the existence of wildlife in their natural sanctuary, and has resulted in frequent HWC with deaths recorded on both sides. Increasing human populations have added more pressure on the limited natural resource land, leading to individuals cultivating on land that has previously been wild animals’ corridors and grazing areas for livestock. The change in lifestyle from pastoralism to more sedentary forms of living has compounded this problem with the otherwise nomadic Pastoralists taking up and fencing huge tracks of land in these areas for farming.

Along with the reducing vegetation cover in the area, this has forced wild animals, especially elephants, giraffes, and others, to invade these farms and feed on farmers’ crops. Thanks to the age-old problem of predators preying on livestock, inhabitants of these areas have been at war with these wild animals, which has resulted in losses to our wildlife resource, losses to farmers, and even death as a result of HWC.

Amboseli ecosystem being the only biosphere in Kenya that human beings and wildlife coexist in the same land with over 75% of the animals living withing the community owned group ranches, has been one of the worst affected with HWC. All it takes is a herd of elephants rumbling through acres of farmland to destroy crops worth millions and a whole year of food for a community. Pastoralist have also been dealing with huge loss of livestock under the mercies of predators such as lions, jackals, hyenas, etc. So, it’s no surprise that the community who were once living peacefully with these animals are resorting to violent ways of protecting their livelihoods and the wild animals are retaliating when attacked.

In this workshop, all energies were geared towards developing innovative, non-violent, low-cost, and low-tech solutions toward HWC that can be taken up and produced by the community as an income earner and help in keeping elephants from wandering into agricultural fields, predators away from bomas, and hence reduce deadly encounters and confrontations with farmers in the Amboseli ecosystem.

All partners on board went through stages of problem solving with a focus on human-centered design; all innovations were to be designed in such a manner that would favor the human in protecting their homes and resources and be harmless to wild animals. Problem identification, persona categorization, research and exploration of different solutions and ideation exercises for prototype making were employed through the workshop, and we developed several prototypes to solve this problem that would later be iterated and refined at Gearbox.

Participants during a fact-finding exercise.

Participants during a fact-finding exercise.

An audio scare crow was among the prototypes developed. Although Elephants are big, the mere buzzing of bees is enough to send a herd running off. The audio played pre-recorded sounds that scared away the elephants and gradually sent the herd away.

Dr. Ciira demonstrating how the audion scarecrow works

Dr. Ciira demonstrating how the audion scarecrow works

We improvised an existing technique of using chili guns to shoot plastic balls filled with chili powder at invading elephants. The guns used before were modified paintball guns which used compressed air canisters and chili balls which were expensive to acquire. Our improvised Chili gun made use of plastic pipes mostly used for irrigation purposes, a foot pump, and 3D printed plastic balls filled with chili, all of which are locally available and performed equally as well as the guns used before. 

Harrison displays how the chili gun works.

Harrison displays how the chili gun works.

The predator alarm sensor wrist band is a prototype that senses heat waves emitted by predators e.g. lions, jackals, and hyenas, then alerts herders to divert their livestock from danger. From a safe distance the wrist band could collect the waves from lurking predators alerting herders in ample time to move their livestock away from danger.

Predator alarm sensor (PAS)

Predator alarm sensor (PAS)

The team came up with predator solar lights that bomas can use at night to keep away predators. Energy absorbed by the solar panels is used to light lamps designed to imitate a guard with a torch walking a homestead through the night, deterring predators from attacking the bomas.

Predator solar lights

Predator solar lights

A pepper dung with launcher is a smoldering mixture of elephant dung and pepper. When shot at a herd of elephants, it irritates their senses keeping them away from farms. Elephants don't like capsaicin, the chemical in chilies that makes them hot. This is a cheap method, with readily available materials to make deterrents like briquettes of crushed chili and animal dung.

Pepper dung with launcher 

The prototypes will further be refined at Gearbox to production quality and funds are being sourced to empower the community especially local women groups to produce and sell them to the community generating income leveraging on the locally available materials used to produce them.

A little fun-time after work

A little fun-time after work