Kenya is a country known for it’s diverse wildlife. However, this abundance of animals brings with it a huge problem, which is the poaching menace. The most endangered animals are the elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns.
The government and quite a few NGOs and individuals are united in the fight against poaching. I had an opportunity to work with one such organisation in their quest to fight poaching of black rhinos through use of technology.
black rhinos (image credit africapoint.com)
How do we make it easier for park rangers to report any sightings of rhinos, poachers and call for assistance in the instance of combat with poachers?
walking through the bush to meet with rangers
The team decided to equip the rangers with smartphones for use of GPS and better communication amongst them. The devices would have ability to enable virtual surveillance of rangers by their commanders who could also send them alerts on the same system. Software that would enable wildlife monitoring and logging of rhino sightings including their photos, location and other data needed for statistics and analysis was added. A responsive map of the entire sanctuary that showed key features like watering holes, tracks and other such features was also added.
I spent some time in a protected zone in the middle of one of our national parks. I interviewed rangers about how they spent their days tracking and protecting our wildlife. This was in a bid to understand who the users (rangers) really are and what their environment is really like.
I also ran usability tests where rangers mock tested the application using different scenarios that they come across in their work. This helped contextualise the devices and app giving a much clearer picture of how rangers would interact with them in the bush.
running a modified usability test with some of the rangers
This interaction with rangers in their environment made it clear that a few changes had to be made. Some of these changes were:
- The smart phone devices that we had initially thought of running the application on would not work in the bush due to their sensitive nature. The bush needed hardware devices that are hardy and not easily damaged in case of falling on the ground case in mind when a ranger is chasing after poachers.
- Devices that could hold power charge for an extended period of time were most suitable. The devices also needed to be easily charged using solar power. Rangers sometimes spend even a whole week without contact with the outside world and hence charging devices daily was not an option for them. The only available source of power available to them in the bush was solar energy.
- Some of the icons and words used on the application did not make any sense to the rangers and had to be changed or in some cases done away with.
I also consulted with the larger team on the best devices to be deployed to the rangers and the best brand kit that would resonate with the rangers.
testing and discussing some of the changes with a ranger
After a few of these testing and iterations episodes smartphone with the application installed in it was deployed to the rangers. By working closely with the rangers from the beginning to the end of the project a sense of ownership for the product was instilled in them. They loved that their thoughts and ideas were considered and that the testing was done with them, the end users of the device.
Going out to the bush helped gain a much deeper understanding of what our rangers go through in a bid to protect our wildlife and I appreciated them and their work more. It also helped us design and build a solution that fit the user’s needs and that was relevant for them.