Defeating poachers before they get to the elephants

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Breaking ivory poaching networks and stopping poachers before they actually get to elephants is vitally important. The tenBoma project in Kenya is doing just that. Supported by The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), tenBoma combines innovative mobile technology, other conservation and law-enforcement agencies, as well as local communities in building a powerful crime-busting network. This is the first in a series of reports from IFAW’s tenBoma team.


Building enforcement networks to defeat poaching networks

BY TIM SPALIA | INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE | 1 APRIL 2016

If there is one thing I have learned from my time as an intelligence specialist supporting the US Government, it is this: Every situation is unique. The US is not like the Middle East. Afghanistan is not like Iraq. Northern Kenya is not like Southern Kenya. Community A is not like Community B.

The tenBoma initiative in Kenya takes best practices and processes developed for effective counterinsurgency operations and applies them to the fight against criminal poaching networks. But it’s not a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all solution.

The author reviews analytics printouts with IFAW Chief of Staff Fay Cuevas and GIS mapping programs with KWS officers.

The author reviews analytics printouts with IFAW Chief of Staff Fay Cuevas and GIS mapping programs with KWS officers.

People like to focus on the technology we use—drones and mobile apps and big data. Technology helps, for certain, but really at the heart of these best practices is a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground, in a community by community, organization by organization, and network by network basis.

In the end, technologies are somewhat interchangeable and they change over time.

Mastery of the principles of intelligence reporting, analysis and dissemination of actionable intelligence is essential to stop poaching.

Using smartphones, rangers can observe incident reports that have been gathered at HQ and distributed to those in the field.

Using smartphones, rangers can observe incident reports that have been gathered at HQ and distributed to those in the field.

READ: tenBoma, a model project to develop a counter-wildlife crime intelligence fusion center

It’s been a little more than a year now since we first starting working with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Right away, I was impressed by the level of access KWS granted us. Since they have a long history of working with IFAW, we enjoyed extensive access to people from all levels and departments within KWS, the Kenyan government and communities. We did a lot of listening to understand what the situation really is like for each of them on the ground.

Since then, we’ve been able to identify low-cost, disruptive and sustainable technologies to address specific problem sets from the field to HQ, and set up practical processes that have been enthusiastically adopted by leadership, rangers, intelligence analysts, IT, investigations and prosecution units in KWS.

KWS field rangers have been trained in the tradecraft of intelligence, analysis, predictive modeling, and investigation.

KWS field rangers have been trained in the tradecraft of intelligence, analysis, predictive modeling, and investigation.

We’ve deployed new tech, software and training in one pilot field location and at KWS HQ in Nairobi. Specialized tenBoma mentors augment KWS staff right now, but we don’t let KWS analysts and rangers do any less. They are working right alongside us, helping to build the solution that they will eventually own completely.

When we first came here, we saw rangers in the field submitting written reports that were entered into a database locally and then sent via radio room message to KWS HQ, just to be entered into another database.

They essentially had lists of activities that had been reported but there was no in-depth or multi-disciplined analysis of what it all meant and what should happen next.

READ: TenBoma counter-poaching project featured at US congressional forum

After training on the geospatial intelligence tool Q-GIS (like Google Earth) at one of our pilot locations, the KWS intel lead now submits his weekly reports incorporating simple maps with activity and data overlays, so he and his colleagues can review all that information in one glance, and see where the hotspots and connections may be.

Thanks to that enhanced intelligence picture, he’s asking his guys questions that he wasn’t asking before.

His reports are starting to link the ‘who, what, when, where’ of poaching related activities on a map instead of just listing items on a non-correlated spreadsheet.

Cuevas and KWS rangers review incident data on a smartphone.

Cuevas and KWS rangers review incident data on a smartphone.

Our tenBoma mentors, by setting an example, are working to instill a ‘process’ mechanism by which the KWS field and HQ teams adopt the habit of regular information sharing and discussion. They’ve established what we call a battle rhythm.  HQ receives message traffic from the field. They take an active approach, search the database, talk to investigation units, and then relay suggestions back to the field. This means that information can be processed much more rapidly in order to drive a more predictive response to wildlife crime.

The following is a list of tangible achievements we’ve made:

  • To assist in trend and pattern analysis of poaching networks, KWS HQ now has one centralized data repository that will be capable of ingesting all of their current databases and available data sources not previously accessible in one place.
  • KWS is better able to characterize nodes and links in poaching networks through various technique improvements to include data quality control. For example, in the different databases and reports, one person’s name might be spelled ten different ways. Those records need to get knitted back together to get an accurate picture. Now if recorded names are off by one or two letters, they will get red-flagged until someone reviews and decides if they are same person.
  • KWS field and HQ regularly are using newly inserted technology to search for evidence on seized cell phones, which is helping with investigations.
  • Some of this evidence has/is currently supporting prosecution of criminal cases.
  • Deployment of pilot mobile phone data collection software for rangers in the field, along with training in the principles of intelligence of reporting and tactical analysis develops a more comprehensive intelligence picture.
  • KWS field rangers and HQ have been trained in the tradecraft of intelligence, analysis, predictive modeling, and investigation.

So where are we with tenBoma?

We have successfully piloted the program and received enthusiastic response from all levels within KWS—additional teams and departments within KWS have begun requesting tenBoma methods specifically designed for them.

We have demonstrated impact with pending court cases and planned counter-poaching operations.

Over the next year or two, we need to solidify the tenBoma approach and optimize it for varying locales within Kenya and beyond. We need to ensure that KWS has the knowledge, processes and skills to institutionalize the tenBoma approach. We want to see tenBoma methods taught in KWS training schools and operations. We want to see KWS expand this approach into other high-risk areas in Kenya and even greater regional collaborations. We want to see KWS own this. That’s true impact.

That’s how we outpace poaching networks—with a powerful enforcement network on the side of the elephants.

IFAWINTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE (IFAW)

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are available at www.ifawimages.com

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