EUGENE, Ore. - A University of Oregon student is taking his skills out of the classroom to help end poaching in Africa.
Interior architecture student Jess Kokkeler has loved animals from a young age.
"When I was a kid I watched this video about anti-poaching in Africa, so I've always been fascinated," Kokkeler said.
In September, Kokkeler went to Zimbabwe to research adventure tourism. There, he visited a game reserve where he saw a need for a new way to prevent poaching.
The multi-billion dollar illegal trade industry kills thousands of animals every year and harms Africa's tourism industry. The game reserve was home to the "big five" -- Cape buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants, and the critically endangered black rhino.
With his eyes on the sky, Kokkeller saw a solution.
"I noticed that they weren't using elevated positions to recon the area, and since it was close to the airport, they weren't allowed to use drones."
Kokkeler designed the game reserve's first lookout tower, based on fire lookout towers he studied in Oregon. The tower's elevated position and a strategic location offers sweeping views of the area so rangers can spot poachers and monitor herds.
Using basic materials like re-purposed logs found on forest floors, handsaws and hatchets, Kokkeler built the tower in four days. Kokkeler said it is strong enough to withstand the rainy season and tall enough to offer a 360 degree view of the game reserve.
"Everyone was so supportive and worked really hard,” Kokkeler said. “It was just a great experience overall."
Kokkeler said he is not stopping there. He is raising funds to return to Zimbabwe to build more towers and a suspension bridge. You can support Kokkeler here on his website at www.jesskokkeler.com.