Tech & The Cheetah

Marcy Mendelson | National Geographic | November 26, 2013

Some regions of Kenya have better cell phone reception than the heart of San Francisco’s financial district.  This is no exaggeration.  One can easily make a call or text from the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  It’s changed the country’s economy, society in both rural and urban areas, and launched millions of voices onto Twitter and Facebook.

Naturally, NGOs are working to figure out solutions to leverage this love of cellphones for the benefit of wildlife.  The technology is already in the hands of millions.  The issue is finding out where the need is, and how a rural community can benefit from the sharing of information.

I sat down with Dr. Jimmy Macharia, Dean of the School of Science and Tech at Nairobi’s US International University, to discuss the possibilities.  “Users must see the value beyond the cost, first we must address their primary needs”.  Those needs do not include the cheetah as top-of-mind, but rather issues of security, safe and accessible drinking water, education and poaching.  Dr. Macharia suggested creating “software for conservation” where students earning their Masters in IT would create programs for targeted geo-messaging that would reach thousands who have just the simplest of SMS (short message service, i.e. text message) technology.  “We must involve and invoke the people to share”.