Improving Community-Based Monitoring in the Northern Kenya Grevy’s Zebra Project

New technologies have been deployed to Marwell Wildlife’s scout network in Kenya to improve on data collection efforts, analysis, and responsiveness of management actions.

Marwell Wildlife has been operating with local communities in the north of Kenya and employed wildlife scouts chosen by and from them since 2012. Initially using camera traps only, our ever-growing scout network has been using GPS enabled mobile phones with SMART* software (https://smartconservationtools.org) and the CyberTracker application (www.cybertracker.org) since 2017 to collect wildlife data on their daily patrols.

These mobile applications have been very useful, particularly in allowing the use of icons for some of our scouts who are not literate. These systems are, however, not without its challenges. Data collection has relied on monthly field visits by our Field Coordinator, Enrita Lesoloyia, whereby data would be downloaded, stored and later transmitted to the Data Manager, Lizbeth Mate, in Nairobi for analysis and reporting. This system has led to long delays in feedback to the field teams and conservation management action. Besides that, there have also been challenges with how CyberTracker was recording patrol track logs in some of the devices.

Over the years, the SMART partnership has tried to address issues encountered, particularly improving mobile connectivity. We are now able to migrate our scout team of currently 23 people (six women and 19 men) to SMART Connect and replace CyberTracker with SMART Mobile. SMART Connect is an online application that allows real-time data transfer from the scouts in the field to a secure online server which will mean that analysis of and response to data will happen much faster than is currently the case. SMART Mobile also offers better functionality and user experience enhancements compared to CyberTracker as well as a much tighter integration with the SMART desktop software and SMART Connect.  

In July, the Marwell team and the Kenyan national trainer for SMART, Clarine Kigoli (Zoological Society of London), travelled to the field, where they spent several days with our scouts to provide tailored training. While SMART Mobile is more technical and requires a degree of literacy which our mostly illiterate scouts do not have, they were eager to learn. By the end of the training all 12 teams had made significant advances and further training and regular use of the software will improve the ability of all scouts over the coming months. 

A Samburu National Reserve Senior Sergeant also joined the team to see how mobile data collection can work with the aim of introducing it to their rangers at the reserve.

With the migration to SMART Connect we expect that it will be possible to respond to real-time alerts to enable more effective and rapid operational responses. While some scouts are so remote that they won’t have access to the network daily, they will all visit a market at least once a week and be able to transfer their data at that point.

*SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is an open source and freely available software application. SMART makes it possible to collect, store, communicate and analyse scout-collected data on wildlife, patrol routes, illegal activities, and management actions to understand where conservation efforts should focus, and evaluate scout performance.