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What looks like an ordinary gate stands tall at Kamutune separating the lush-green Imenti Forest and the vast villages in Meru County. The gate is, however, not your ordinary barrier – it only opens to its unique guests that command attention – the elephants. It does not respond to humans.
The gate is one of the pilot projects that allow elephants to freely move through their migratory corridors while minimising cases of intense human-wildlife conflicts in the area.
In Kamutune, the automatic gates allow elephants to freely move from Shaba, Isiolo and from Meru National Park to access the recently-fenced Imenti Forest.
“This is one of the pilot projects currently being tested to allow elephants to move freely through their migratory corridors and access various ecosystems.
The gates are a prototype that are being tested and once they work as expected, others will be rolled out in migratory corridors,” Adams Mwangi, Rhino Ark Fence/Community manager Aberdare-Mount Kenya landscape said.
The gates have sensors that only allow elephants to access their migratory corridors.
It is fitted to a system that uses a Sim card which sends notifications once the gates open. Once the elephants pass, the system sends back information to a user who authorises the gate to close.
“Technology is fast revamping conservation and this is a system that is operated remotely. Once the system sends a notification to certain programmed contacts that the elephants have crossed, the user can send back ‘Close Gate’ message to close the gate after elephants have crossed over,” Mr Mwangi said.
The automatic gates are part of the growing technologies being incorporated into conservation, a project pioneered by Rhino Ark, Mount Kenya Trust and Wildlife Conservation Society.
The incorporation of automatic elephant gates are geared towards boosting the 200-kilometre electric fence covering Mt Kenya ecosystem, which is part of Mountain Conservation Area that covers eight counties stretching from Kiambu, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga and Samburu.
Currently, the fence, which is expected to cover 450 kilometres, stands at 200 kilometres with over Sh500 million having been used in the construction in a bid to stem cases of human-wildlife conflicts.
The cost of putting up a kilometre of electric fence, according to Rhino Ark, is Sh2.5 million, translating to over Sh1 billion to complete the entire 450 kilometres of Mt Kenya ecosystem.
According to Simon Lempakio, deputy warden at Imenti Forest, securing elephant migratory corridors through the piloting of the elephant gates and the electric fencing has eased cases of human-wildlife conflicts in the volatile areas of lower Imenti Forest that has the highest densities of elephants crossing over to Shaba and Isiolo.
“These technologies have greatly helped in easing cases of human-wildlife conflicts especially in Meru County where much of the conflicts stem from blocked migratory routes,” Mr Lempakio said.
The incorporation of technology to combat vandalism of electric fence and illegal activities has also been piloted in Aberdare ecosystem. The Fence Monitoring System sends notification to designated numbers for surveillance.
The system, currently under piloting in a volatile zone bordering the rhino sanctuary, covers six kilometres and gives real-time updates in case of any intrusion from the fence. Just like the automatic gates, the fencing monitoring system has energisers fitted to relay notifications once the fence is tampered with. One can monitor remotely.
“The project is excellent in combating poaching because one can remotely monitor and is able to tell exact points where there is a breakage, low voltage or short-circuit because the system instantly notifies,” Sammy Bario, a fence manager at Abardares ecosystem said.
The technology is also costly, but the Kenya Wildlife Service said it has been effective in conserving the fragile mountain conservation area.
“Incorporation of technologies and projects including electric fencing and other pilot projects like the automatic elephant gates and fence monitoring system have really helped a lot in boosting conservation of the fragile ecosystem,” Simon Gitau, KWS assistant director, Mountain Conservation Area, said.
The pilot project is currently 18 months old, costing Sh1 million per kilometre.
The incorporation of technologies in conservation are also inclined to reducing cases of poaching and combating human-wildlife conflicts, which are raking billions in compensation claims.
A recently released summary from the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife stemming from 2014 to 2017 reveals that 452 compensation claims on human deaths were submitted.