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Sustainable Wildlife Monitoring in Kenya

A need for a more sustainable wildlife monitoring program brought together researchers from NC State and Kenya as concerns grow about the decline of certain animal species in Africa. NC State zoologist Roland Kays leads the eMammal data management system, a global project involving thousands of camera traps to capture typically unseen images of animals in the wild.  

The motion sensitive camera traps used by both researchers and citizen scientists around the world are a non-invasive way of monitoring the movement of animal communities. A partnership between NC State and the Smithsonian, the eMammal system was developed as a solution to the big data problem encountered when collecting millions of the cameras’ pictures over time.  

To an online observer from halfway around the world, the eMammal system provides interesting, and sometimes bizarre, pictures of animals to click through, but to the wildlife reserves who monitor the images, the cameras are an important tool in growing conservation efforts.

Kays and the Kenya Wildlife Service monitoring project received a seed grant through the East Africa Strategic Initiative from the Office of Global Engagement in 2016. With funds from the grant, two Kenya Wildlife Service staff members traveled to NC State to receive training on the eMammal system for implementation with the 20 recently donated cameras in Kenya’s national parks.

Roland Kays, Wycliffe Mutero, and Samuel Kasiski

Samuel Kasiski, the Deputy Director Biodiversity Research and Monitoring, and Wycliffe Mutero, Head of Geographic Information System, joined Kays on campus in October of 2016 for training as well as to give lectures to undergraduate and graduate NC State students, providing global perspectives on conservation efforts in developing countries. The grant funding also allowed for Kasiski to present a research talk at the The Wildlife Society’s annual conference hosted by the university. 

In Kenya, camera traps are not a new technology, but with the abundance of images from large-scale animal surveys, archiving the data properly has been a challenge.

“The data is really where the difference comes in. Kenya Wildlife Services, who manages the camera system, is a major economic driver for the country. People go to Kenya to see wildlife, and the eMammal system allows them to monitor how the wildlife is doing,” explained Kays.

The public can view camera trap pictures uploaded by the Kenya Wildlife Service, who hopes the dramatic photos will prompt more tourism to the country’s wildlife reserves.

An elephant captured by a camera on Kay’s survey of Mt. Kenya.

With more camera trapping projects wrapping up in Peru, and more on the horizon in Panama, Indonesia, Germany, Mexico, and India, the eMammal system will continue to grow and provide researchers and casual observers alike with important animal tracking data. 

As for Kay’s favorite animal to see on the cameras? “My favorites are always the weasel family members. Those are the animals that are the hardest to see, so when you get them on the camera, like the honey badger in Kenya or the fishers in North America, they’re always impressive.”

Search for your favorite animal on eMammal and view other NC State global faculty spotlights.