Kenya’s Great Migration stampedes into the digital age

Across golden fields of Kenya’s savannah, a lilac-breasted roller bird calls as it swoops over a safari van.

On the ground, however, the guides on this safari are more interested in a different kind of tweet.

“Did you tweet out already?” Andre Van Kets asks, placing his MacBook next to a portable satellite he’s set up on the top of the safari vehicle.

In the distance, a lioness is stalking a family of warthogs.

She approaches them silently, and the time to capture the possible kill on camera is running out as quickly as Van Kets’ iPhone battery life.

He fumbles with his computer and after plugs in several devices and then says, “We are ready to broadcast.”

Safaris might traditionally be rugged, back-to-nature experiences, but Van Kets, an African tourism expert, and professional safari guide Carel Verhoef are trying to bring this one into the high tech age.

Greener pastures

They’re conducting the first-ever live broadcast of the Great Migration, where more than two million wildebeest, zebras, and other animals travel across east Africa in search of greener pastures.

Through October 5, Van Kets and Verhof will adventure across Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve, streaming about 40 minutes of daily broadcasts of some of the reserve’s most exciting action through the app they co-created, HerdTracker.

Using live streaming platforms such as Periscope or YouTube, the men narrate what they see, showing viewers across the world lions as they kill, wildebeest crossing rivers, and elephants as they browse.

The videos, some of which are pixelated smartphone renderings of a long lens camera shots, are still making waves with around 200 viewers for each live broadcast.

Viewers ask questions, “like” or write comments throughout.

Some questions and comments are simple, like, “what do elephants eat?’ or “do elephants often go alone?”

Others are cheeky. When a bull elephant ranges closer to the vehicle, one viewer remarks: “Someone’s going to need new undies!”

Threat from poaching

It’s a push by the Kenya Tourism Board’s “Make It Kenya” initiative to showcase the country’s best to the world.

Concerns about security over the last two years have left a residual impact on tourists.

Visitor numbers have dropped by nearly a quarter since the beginning of 2015, and some say this leaves surrounding communities and wilderness areas vulnerable.

“The moment the lodge or camp doesn’t make it, it leaves a void,” says Verhoef, adding that tourists in an area can prevent land encroachment and poaching.

“The cheapest way to look after Africa’s resources in the natural world is to have people in those places.”

Verhoef hopes that his live broadcasts will entice virtual viewers into eventually paying to visit the real thing.

“We wanted to do it in a way that would stand out,” said Van Kets. “We just turned on our account and we had 175 people join us for that safari experience. There’s definitely not room for 175 people in this vehicle so, I think that was a success.”



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