If it takes a village to raise a child, why not use the village wisdom to protect wildlife, too?
tenBoma, meaning “ten houses,” is a joint Kenya-based initiative backed by the International Fund of Animal Welfare (IFAW, which is a Moving Giants “Elephant Champion”) and the Kenya Wildlife Service. The idea, according to the IFAW website, was “inspired by an African community-security philosophy that if 10 houses look out for each other, the broader community is safer." That philosophy also allows the tenBoma team to create a larger network of local communities, governments and enforcement agencies like the Kenya Wildlife Service "to create a coordinated system of eyes and ears that can monitor, predict and prevent poaching and other threats to wildlife.”
The brainchild of ex-US military Lt. Col. Faye Cuevas — a Special-Ops Intelligence officer, and now a senior vice president at IFAW — and IFAW East Africa Regional Director James Ische, tenBoma uses sophisticated military-grade data and surveillance equipment to predict and prevent poachers next steps.
“We want to be able to develop an information picture,” says Cuevas, “earlier in the conflict spectrum, before the physical attack, that being the ‘boom.’ Over several years of prosecuting the global war on terror, the focus was ‘left of boom.’ Could we get ‘left of kill’ in the counter-poaching context?”
As noted in a short IFAW-produced video on tenBoma, “The same methods used to destroy terror networks are now being used to connect all the dots of information, giving authorities an enhanced picture of poaching activities.”
Cuevas’s military mindset reflects the realities of what is often a type of guerrilla warfare in the bush, with defenseless animals the target — and victims.
“The war on poaching and the ivory war were described using terms of war,” notes Cuevas, “but nobody was leveraging principles of war in building strategies to counter poaching. And so that really became the genesis of tenboma.”
A good example of how the process works: Tracking robberies of camp supplies. Typically, these types of robberies increase sharply before poaching gangs head into the bush, so by tracking reports of robberies, the rangers are suddenly armed with a detective-look approach to preventing the poachers’ next move.
“It takes a network to defeat a network,” writes IFAW on their website. “Poachers are part of larger criminal organizations and supply chains that also include smugglers, dealers and other support personnel. To stay one step ahead of these criminal networks, IFAW needed to create an organized wildlife security network that is nimble and fast-acting.”
And, as part of the tenBoma philosophy, relying on tips from locals as to when when criminals enter the area is essential. “Grass-roots intelligence is our strongest weapon,” add Cuevas, noting that the tips are evaluated in concert “with software and hardware developed for elite military units.”