Fighting poaching in Africa through design

Poaching is a serious problem in Africa. According to the African Wildlife foundation, the population of black rhinos has gone down 97.6% since 1960. Up to 35,000 elephants were killed last year. Approximately 2,000 gravy zebra remain; Lions are extinct in seven African countries. The statistics go on and on and are pretty grim reading as an Africa and human being. We collectively have to do something about it.

It is therefore an honor for me to be involved in a project at the iHub together with MIT and Wildlife works in which we co-design intelligent solutions that help the hard working rangers and staff at Wildlife Works. They are the last line of defense for these animals.


Wildlife works protects over 500,000 acres of highly threatened Kenyan forest, securing the entire migration corridor between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. The project area is home to a fantastic diversity of over 50 species of large mammals, more than 20 species of bats and over 300 species of birds and important populations of IUCN Red List species such as; Grevy’s Zebra, Cheetah, Lion, African Wild Dog as well as over 2000 African elephants.

Most of the poachers are born and raised in the area, meaning they know the park and terrain much better than rangers who are deployed from training. They have perfected tracking and trapping techniques using poison arrows, poison traps, guns among other weapons. They are getting more sophisticated making the task of the rangers even more arduous. The vastness of the terrain compounds the challenges.

This is a huge area to cover and rangers do so day and night, dedicating their lives to these animals. They use a predominantly paper based system of collecting information, with GPS equipment to assist the process. The paper-based system has some drawbacks.

1. Cumbersome: It is a labour and time intensive process making sure notes are translated well, typed and entered into a system
2. Slow: Given the lengthy process of gathering data, there is a lot op potential backlog of data if the is a delay at the collecting/data entry stage. As a consequence, it takes some time to make sense of the data for intelligence decision-making.
3. Accuracy: The highly manual process is prone to a human error and omissions that consequently affect the veracity of the data.


How can we develop an efficient, effective data collection and communication system in an extremely rugged environment where connectivity and access to power is an issue?


Human Centered Design focuses on the user as the central pivot point for design and innovation. As such, there is a great deal of focus we pay to talking to the team at wildlife works and ‘walking in their shoes’. This is exactly what we did. We spent some time with the patrol team learning what their daily life is about, understanding what their process and constraints are. This is the basis on which we have begun a prototyping process that we are developing with them with an aim of developing tools that will keep them a step ahead of the poachers and prevent this scourge. The video at the beginning of the post is part of the process.

With a solid commitment to work together, we are developing prototypes that test assumptions and more importantly, helping us learn as we work closely with the rangers. It takes real work, time and effort under the scorching African sun.

In Africa, good design is not something nice to have. It is often a matter of life and death. Literally. I feel humbled to be able to apply human centered design to serious challenges facing our beautiful continent. Check the blog out in a month and I shall keep you posted on the process and progress.

Previous Article