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For years, communities around the Tsavo National Park have been plagued by elephants straying into their farms and homes. Residents are caught unawares whenever the jumbos invade their villages, killing people and destroying property.
Enter four innovators who are now taking the global scene by storm. Kajire Girls High School students Sandra Lukindo, Joyce Mtoto, Nancy Wairimu and Macrina Antonia came up with a solar-powered sensor kit to alert the authorities to straying elephants.
The ‘Ndovu Care gadget’, as they call it, is an integration of motion sensors and Global System for Mobile communication with the ability to send strong signals and raise alarm once a jumbo goes to the villages.
Demonstrating how it works, Wairimu, the club’s technical personnel explained that the gadget has a red light, which indicates that power is on.
A sensor set to track an elephant passing about 180m away raises a siren, which alerts both the community and Kenya Wildlife Service officials via SMS.
“Once the siren goes off, people are advised to remain indoors, while wildlife officials swiftly respond to control the jumbos, preventing possible damage or attack,” Wairimu said.
These four youngsters emerged winners at the Diamond Africa challenge, held in Elgeyo Marakwet county. Their exceptional prototype device and polished exhibition skills saw their school ranked the best nationally.
They won in the Business Idea category and ranked the best overall in the competition. The girls, under their innovation club, Anisan, beat other 90 submissions nationally to emerge at finals held at Maria Soti Girls High school.
Next month, these bright minds will travel to the US to showcase their technology at the University of Delaware. They will face off with other competitors for the global challenge, which will be held between April 11 and 14.
The invention could not have come at a better time. Last year, an elderly woman collapsed and died after she woke up to find a big herd of jumbos surrounding her homestead.
In January, more than 200 elephants climbed on top of Sagalla hills, attacking residents, destroying crops and properties.
The perennial menace has forced parents of several schools, including Gideon Mosi Primary School in Talio Village, to withdraw their children for fear of attacks by elephants on their way to school.
Even the innovators’ school Kajire, about 15km south of Voi town, suffers attacks. A few years ago, the school was shut down due to jumbo raids, which resulted in low student enrolment. The equipment they’ve come up with looks like a set top-box but has antennae.
Once an elephant uses a route to the neighbouring villages or steps out of the park, the box’s alarm goes off. It also sends messages to contacts set as emergency numbers.
The Undo Care is powered to track every movement of elephants. This will promptly notify KWS rangers of any attack by jumbos.
Also Cuts Poaching
The innovation competition, run by Startup Africa, connects mentors and upcoming innovators. It also builds skills, especially among students, youth and women, besides spurring entrepreneurship engagement.
The Anison club has effected a chain of command. The group has a leader, researcher, technician and market analyst.
Club founder and aspiring lawyer Lukindo attributed the success to dedication, hard work from her team members and great support from her teachers and the administration. The form four student said her dream had come true.
“I have always worked hard to do something that would motivate my fellow students. They can now understand that you don’t need to be in a national school to make an impact,” she said.
Club researcher Antonia, a form two student, said apart from fighting human-wildlife conflict, the ‘Ndovu Care’ sensor would also help KWS fight poaching.
“The number of elephants being killed keeps increasing, while the pride of Kenya decreases. This device will take care of both the elephant and the community,” Antonia said.
Antonia cited research showing that KWS rangers struggle to cope with poaching and human-wildlife conflicts in the vast Tsavo park.
She said incidents happening to people close to her have been the biggest motivator in her research work. One incident was when two rangers were killed by jumbos a few metres from their school compound.
Wairimu said the new technology would substitute traditional and futile methods used by residents to drive jumbos away at night, like lighting fire, setting off bees and beating drums.
The students have identified the KWS, communities bordering national parks and NGOs as the main market targets.
Demand for Kit
Club marketing analyst Mtoto, a form four student, said two NGOs have shown interest in the Ndovu Care kit: Wildlife Works and Beehive Company.
She said they are now selling the prototype kit at Sh60,000. The club aims to make more money from repairing kits, scanning and detecting areas where to locate new kits, and selling branded T-shirts.
“Our marketing strategies are pricing, advertising on social media and branding,” Mtoto said.
All this could not have happened if it were not for the school principal, Phidilia Kilimo. Phidilia applauded the girls for their unique innovation.
She said just as with other neighbouring schools, Kajire students lived in fear of attack by the marauding elephants. Many students missed classes whenever jumbos wreaked havoc.
The principal said day scholars came late to school whenever jumbos invaded the villages.
“In some cases, parents have been unable to pay fees for their children since their farms, which they highly depend on, were destroyed by the elephants,” she said.
Kilimo said the innovation has been welcomed by the community, and their victory would also motivate young girls in the society.
KWS also approved of the kit. George Nagwala, KWS assistant director in charge of Tsavo conservation area, said the creation is a sharp way of solving the notorious conflict.
He said he is pleased young people are finding solutions for the community’s worst problems.
“We are happy because the community is getting their unique way of dealing with this menace, even as our officers work around the clock to safeguard wildlife and the community,” Nagwala said.
He said KWS is willing to adopt the method and other technologies.
The wildlife service is currently using radio collars, which transmit a satellite and radio signal using GPS technology to map out the elephants’ migratory routes and identify how far they travel in search of water and vegetation.