As we continue exploring human-wildlife conflict challenges across East Africa and the accompanying stellar conservation technologies and tools that have been developed and adopted to promote coexistence and solve this issue among communities (you can read more about this in our article here), we tell the extraordinary story of a young conservation tech innovator, Sandra Maryanne (@Sandra254) whose tale of resilience and innovation addressing human-elephant conflict in Taita-Taveta County, Kenya that is home to the Tsavo National Park is a great example of novel inventions promoting coexistence and the important role youth play in conservation technology across East Africa.
Read on to see our interview with Sandra Maryanne as she embarks on the next stage of her project.
Tell us about yourself?
I have been born and brought up in Taita Taveta County in a place known as Ivarenyi where I studied my primary and high school level. Since my childhood, we have always had a challenge with elephants. While I was in form three in a school known as Kajire Girls High School, I joined the ICT Club. One day our patron approached each one of us to come up with an idea to be able to participate in the High School Entrepreneurs Challenge. Only two schools were to be selected from each county in Kenya. That is where my journey with Ndovucare began. This inspired my journey on working to resolve human-elephant conflict in Taita using a device known as Ndovucare. I am so passionate about nature and that's why I came up with Ndovucare to maintain our heritage as Kenya and our pride of having wildlife around us. I love being adventurous. I studied software engineering because of my passion towards wildlife.
What Human-Wildlife Conflict challenge were you confronted with that led to your innovation?
Elephants are known to use specific corridors while migrating from one area to another. Taita Taveta happens to be within their corridors. At times we were unable to attend our school evening classes due to the elephants being within our community. Not only the evening classes but also our morning studies. The community on the other hand had a challenge of not reaping what they had sowed because the elephants used to destroy everything in their homesteads and farms leading to a low produce.
Could you talk us through a brief summary of your project and the technology you're using?
My gadget is known as Ndovucare and it has sensors, LED light and sound. The sensors will first sense the presence of the elephants then an LED light will light to indicate their presence, immediately a disturbing sound will be produced via the siren, as it does that an SMS notification will be sent to the community and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to notify them of the presence. I came up with the first prototype in the year 2017 back in high school which was sponsored by the school and Sote HUB. Later on, WWF sponsored my second prototype which was operational until funds became a challenge.
What challenges have you faced in this work, either with technology or otherwise?
The lack of knowledge as a young entrepreneur was a challenge since I never knew how to run and operate the whole idea. Funding became a challenge too leading to the lack of the second data. The fact that I was using technology and I had not yet joined university was a great challenge since I couldn't apply the tech languages where necessary.
Are there lessons from your project so far that other WILDLABS members could apply to their own Human-Wildlife Conflict conservation technology work?
It all starts with the passion, if you have the passion then that's a motivation on its own. Technology is not difficult as long as you focus and do it willingly. Be ready to learn and explore. Lastly be innovative.
What other new technologies or innovations could make your work easier, enhance your results, or allow you to expand or further scale up your work?
Technology needs one to be a researcher on a daily basis because the ideas we have in mind elapse so fast. I'd also love to further my tech education and skills in the near future if the opportunity arises by studying Java and Python, as well as accessing additional funding to help advance Ndovucare's impact by creating job opportunities in servicing the product for those in affected areas to improve livelihoods as we promote coexistence.
Sandra's story is a great example of how young East African conservation tech innovators are developing novel context-specific solutions towards addressing the human-wildlife challenges being faced within their communities that border national parks. Her story of resilience and ingenuity reinforces the importance of supporting early career women in conservation technology across the biodiverse Global South such as East Africa towards advancing their skill-sets and careers in conservation technology as WILDLABS continues to do through our Women in Conservation Technology Programme which you can read more about here.
If you'd like to learn more, connect or support Sandra, feel free to reach her here on WILDLABS @Sandra254 or email her at: [email protected]
In the meantime, stay tuned on WILDLABS to meet more early career East African conservation tech innovators mitigating human-wildlife conflict across the region in new and innovative ways, and check out our article here for more information on other human-wildlife mitigation East African projects powered by conservation tech!
Thanks to Sandra Maryanne for talking with us, sharing photos and her novel invention journey with the WILDLABS community!