Track apps

Kenya app lets users help track rare mammals

Kenyan wildlife authorities have launched a free mobile phone app that allows users to track sightings of rare mammals to help authorities protect them.

The Mammal Atlas Kenya, or Makenya, allows any user who spots a wild mammal to identify it and record its location.

Kenya is home to nearly 400 species of mammals, 22 of which are native to parts of Kenya, according to national figures. Authorities say it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect them as climate change and human activities harm their natural habitats.

So the National Museums of Kenya, the Mammal Committee of Nature Kenya and their partners designed the mobile app, which also allows uploading of photos and details, such as the number of mammals sighted and their exact location.

“You can also add the behavior,” said Dr Simon Musila, a researcher at the National Museums of Kenya. “When you see this animal, what are they doing? Are they resting? Are they running away? Are they feeding? What are they doing when you see them?”

Musila said it was important to engage the public by using technology to help the country’s limited number of mammal specialists. Wildlife authorities said staff would keep records of the changing environment and the animals’ survival conditions.

It’s necessary “to bring in a lot of people who can bring in a lot of data,” he said. “These are people like safari guides. These are people like students, tourists, people who go out and meet animals and will be willing to submit data.”

Samson Onyuok uses the Makenya app. Users like him have reported more than 2,500 mammal sightings since the app launched in August.

“First of all, I think I’m proud to contribute to conservation initiatives in the country,” he said. “I think as a Kenyan it’s my little way of contributing to conservation initiatives. So, yeah, there’s an accomplishment that comes with that.”

Experts say Africa contributes minimally to climate change, but bears the brunt of its consequences. Dr. Philip Muruthi, vice president of the African Wildlife Foundation, told VOA that the reproduction of rare mammals and the survival rate of young are declining.

“It’s very difficult to benefit or deal with what you don’t know,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important. It’s going to tell us what species we have, where they are, and maybe which ones are very endangered, what we need to do about them. And especially not just the big things but also small things, like bats.”

Wildlife officials say Kenya is home to at least a third of Africa’s mammal species and hope app users will do more to protect them.