article / 11 May 2023

Mount Kenya Trust: Thinking Locally with SMART and EarthRanger

In this case study, you'll discover how Mount Kenya Trust is using SMART and EarthRanger technology to protect key Kenyan species and serve local communities that co-exist with wildlife.

This case study showcases the exceptional work done by Mount Kenya Trust, who use conservation tools like SMART and EarthRanger technology to prevent human-wildlife conflict, combat poaching, and protect and benefit local communities.

About Mount Kenya Trust

Mount Kenya Trust is a non-profit organization located in Nanyuki, Kenya that aims to conserve and protect the environment, wildlife, and communities around Mount Kenya, Africa's second-highest mountain. 

Founded in 2000 by a group of conservationists, climbers, and local leaders, the organization works in close collaboration with government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities to implement programs that promote sustainable development, environmental education, and natural resource management. 

Their key conservation efforts include reforestation, wildlife protection, water resource management, and community development projects. Mount Kenya Trust has also established partnerships with businesses, conservation-minded donors, and volunteers who work with the organization on various conservation initiatives.

What innovative technologies is Mount Kenya Trust using?
Photo by Susie Weeks

Mount Kenya Trust is employing various innovative technologies to achieve their conservation goals. In addition to using EarthRanger, SMART, Cybertracker, and InReach Devices to track patrols, they also adapted SMART to monitor forest restoration projects. 

Beyond that, the same tools have found a unique use in helping them monitor the progress of their Community Health Volunteers, who provide door-to-door services and to map their healthcare project outreach locations. 

Furthermore, Mount Kenya Trust partnered with Rhino Ark to develop two one-way gates in the Imenti Forest to allow elephants into the fenced portion of the Imenti Forest Reserve - but not back out again - using sensors that detect when a large mass appears at the gates. Camera traps are used to monitor elephant movement at the gates, as well as along the Mount Kenya Elephant Corridor and the regenerative agriculture farm, where a beehive fence has been constructed to reduce elephant crop raiding. 

Mount Kenya Trust also utilizes electric fences as a conservation management tool for protected areas, primarily to reduce human-wildlife-conflict. They pioneered the aforementioned Elephant Corridor, which includes underpasses that allow elephants and other wildlife to move below highways and manmade obstacles.

Photo by Susie Weeks
What are their achievements?

Thanks to conservation technology, Mount Kenya Trust made significant strides in environmental conservation, wildlife protection, community healthcare, and sustainable livelihoods within the Mount Kenya ecosystem. 

One of their main achievements is the use of SMART technology to collect data from patrol teams since 2016, conducting 8,366 patrols covering 126,681 Km, and destroying 3,189 snares while saving an equivalent number of animals from entrapment and death. Additionally, they reduced wildlife crime by arresting 288 people engaging in illegal activities in the region.

The Trust also protected Mount Kenya's diverse Afromontane Forest, bamboo, and moorland bands from forest destruction through firefighting, constructing fire breaks along overgrown high-altitude tracks of over 11km, expanding the track by 3m on each side using a forest mulcher and powerful tractor. 

The Trust integrated EarthRanger technology with SMART tools to monitor patrol teams, as well as educate approximately 450,000 community members and students on sustainable practices. Recently, the Trust launched the Junior Ranger Programme, which provides training to children on the use of crucial GPS and tracking systems used in conservation efforts.

2019 firefighter heli drop by Susie Weeks

And because supporting local communities is vital to the success of conservation efforts, the Trust also provided basic healthcare treatment to 35,178 community members across four counties, including family planning services, HIV testing and counseling, cancer screenings and adolescent sexual reproductive health education. 

Photo by Susie Weeks

Habitat restoration and protection is also critical for the longterm survival of species. The Trust has restored approximately 1,645 ha of degraded land by planting 1,645,149 indigenous trees, and increased the sustainability of 99 schools through the planting of 70,638 exotic trees for woodlots. All planting zones are mapped using GPS units, and plots are recorded and updated, allowing the Trust to keep track of progress with communities and replace seedlings as necessary. 

Overall, Mount Kenya Trust's efforts have positively impacted the environment, wildlife, and communities in the region, with much of that positive impact resulting from utilizing technology efficiently across multiple goals.

How is Mount Kenya Trust addressing their communication challenges for improved conservation efforts?

The organization saw significant improvement in their monitoring and evaluation capabilities thanks to the use of SMART and EarthRanger technologies. However, their biggest challenge lies in the fact that they have poor or no connectivity for communication on most of the mountain. This makes it difficult to respond in real-time to critical incidents and reports, including those related to human-wildlife conflict, problem-animal-control, poaching, fires, safety, and rescues. 

The lack of communication also wastes valuable time, especially during firefighting and poaching incidents where a fast response is crucial. To address this issue, the organization is considering investing in push-to-talk satellite units, starting with 8 portable ICOM SAT100 Push-to-talk Handsets. This investment would significantly improve the team's reaction time, support, and safety, leading to the saving of lives and forests, and ultimately benefiting millions of livelihoods in the region.

The push-to-talk technology (PTT) would not only be used during firefighting operations, but also during mobile camping patrols, mountain bike challenges, training, and special operations to flush out poachers and arsonists. 

Furthermore, the use of PTT technology would enable the team to track progress on EarthRanger and provide timely support to their field teams, thereby increasing their confidence and safety on dangerous missions. 

Photo of mapping fires for deployment management on 22nd March 2022 by Susie Weeks

The adoption of PTT technology could also set a precedent for other organizations working in similar regions to adopt the system and potentially use EarthRanger if they have improved communication capabilities. The overall goal is to strengthen conservation efforts and improve the quality of life for those who depend on the ecosystem services provided by Mount Kenya.

Why Do These Projects Matter?

Since its inception, Mount Kenya Trust has been at the forefront of environmental conservation and wildlife protection efforts within the Mount Kenya ecosystem. And while their innovative use of technologies has already proven successful, their work serves as an example of how improved infrastructure and access to additional tools could greatly improve the outlook of ongoing efforts to conserve and protect this habitat and its surrounding communities. 

While SMART and EarthRanger tools have already significantly improved their monitoring and evaluation capabilities, their future investment in push-to-talk satellite units could help them leverage that technology even more effectively for future development and increased short-term and long-term impact.

How can I engage with the Mount Kenya Trust?

Support Mount Kenya Trust's conservation efforts by contributing to their push-to-talk satellite unit investment. Your support will help the team respond to critical incidents in real-time and improve the quality of life for those who depend on Mount Kenya's ecosystem services. Contact Susie Weeks at [email protected] to learn more and make a difference in protecting the environment and wildlife today!

Explore the 2023 Conservation Tech Showcase

Our new Conservation Tech Showcase is a series exploring successes and bold ideas in the world of conservation technology, shared through case studies about exciting projects from outstanding organizations around the world.

Learn more about the series and its case studies here on WILDLABS.

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