By Christine Lagat
NAIROBI, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Experts from the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) have developed a satellite technology to help better manage some of the world's richest game reserves and protected lands.
The Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS)'s aim is to reduce the potential of human-wildlife conflicts by informing livestock herders and crop farmers where to graze and plant new crops that will increase their productivity, reduce land degradation, and reduce conflicts with wild animals.
"Livestock and farming do not have to always be in conflict with conservation efforts," Tor-Gunnar Vagen, a senior scientist at ICRAF and principal investigator for the soil health mapping component of AfSIS said in a statement received by Xinhua on Tuesday.
"Our research has implications mainly for understanding some of the underlying and often not so obvious causes of poaching - such as land tenure issues, population growth and land degradation," Vagen added.
The statement comes two months after the Kenyan government has released 156,200 U.S. dollars to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to equip its elite rapid frontline response team of rangers to tackle rising human wildlife conflicts.
The money was to be used by KWS's Problem Animal Management Unit (PAMU) to purchase the rangers' tools of trade.
The experts said the research on conservation, soil and land status mapping which has been embraced by agricultural scientists and conservationists could help save Africa's rapidly declining wildlife population.
Conservationists said rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Kenya in particular and Africa as a whole with over 1,000 rhinos having been killed on the continent in the last 18 months.
The poaching menace has brought renewed attention to a crisis that has persisted for decades - the steady decline of Africa's wildlife due to growing human populations and poverty that has put agricultural communities at odds with wildlife for resources.
Conflict between land for wildlife and land for farmers and pastoralists in Kenya has reached crisis level with rampant killing of lions and elephants among other types of important wildlife.
Kenya for example lost 289 elephants to poaching in 2011 and another 384 elephants in 2012. Lion is also one of the most endangered animals not only in Kenya but across Africa. Kenya has an estimated 1,800 lions, down from 2,800 in 2002. The country had 30,000 lions in the 1960s, KWS data reveals.
According to experts, while wildlife poaching is often related to the international illegal trade of products such as ivory, there are other social and local factors that also determine poaching levels.
These include complex interactions among human population growth, changes in socio-economic norms resulting in shifts in livestock composition and densities, inefficient government policies, changes in land tenure, and agricultural expansion.
Vagen said given the rapid decline in Africa's wildlife new technologies, like AfSIS can be repurposed to help land users, governments and conservation groups make better evidence-based decisions on land management as part of everyday policy and practice.
According to Vagen, a case study of Kenya's Laikipia district, one of the country's most diverse wildlife regions, sheds light on the interaction between soil and land health and human-wildlife conflict.
He said satellite images of the region show a high prevalence of soil erosion on land in Laikipia where the conflict has been rife.
By cross mapping this with other datasets that represent progressions in patterns of agriculture amongst pastoralists, shifting paths of migration taken by wildlife, river direction flow changes and land cover change, conservationists can map out areas where the probability of conflict is high.
This, Vagen said, means that communities can be more effectively educated on appropriate livestock numbers, settlement rotation and the management of shared grazing pastures.
Vagen said it was time that we work in partnership with conservationists to help both animals and people, adding that such incentive systems on a large scale cannot exist without the proper data or systems in place.
"With proper management of livestock and agriculture, there is no reason that humans and animals cannot co-exist. We have the tools through these methods to make informed decisions that can help reduce conflicts between humans and wildlife," he said.
Dozens of rhinoceros, an all-time high, have been poached in the last 4 years, and current poaching of elephants is documented to be the highest since the 1980s.
The illegal poaching of wildlife for commercial purposes is also decimating many more species.
KWS has listed elephants, lions, wild dogs, leopards, cheetah, hyenas, Sitatunga, Tana crested mangabey, and Tana red Columbus monkeys as some of the most endangered wildlife species in Kenya, where tourism makes up 7.3 billion U.S. dollars of the country's GDP.
The number of wild animals in Kenya has reduced drastically, threatening the existence of one of the country's major attraction to tourists –who bring most of foreign exchange, new data released by the KWS indicates.
Experts predict current levels of poaching and human-wildlife conflict will lead to the near extinction of lions in 15 years and the extinction of elephants in 20 years.
According to the scientists, offsetting the tourism revenue is the costs of wildlife to pastoral communities and ranches, which are so high that only properties with supplemental income can afford to tolerate wildlife.
For many of the communities in places like the Maasai Mara and around the Laikipia, the main source of income is livestock, which compete with wildlife for grazing lands.
The statement said the World Agroforestry Center has created a monitoring framework for measuring impacts on land health at a landscape scale, the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) , using sites that encompass 10,000 ha each.
In Laikipia, for example, four such sites have been established, covering conservation areas such as the sanctuary at Ol Lentille, in North Laikipia and Isiolo Counties, and group ranches in the county.
Historically, these areas were used for dry-season grazing by nomadic pastoralists, but in recent years, burgeoning population and government development policies have led to increasing permanent settlements in the area.