Rhino numbers in South Africa have been dwindling as poachers kill them for their horns. This Business Reporter podcast investigates how technologies are being used to stop this.
Every year poachers kill more than 1,000 rhinos in South Africa. But attempts to stop this have largely fallen short, with most systems only being able to keep track of the animals instead of the intruders.
“We have a critical issue in Africa where rhinos are being poached at an alarming rate, together with elephants, bush meat, lions as well as pangolin,” says Doc Watson, Group Executive at Dimension Data.
Currently animals are tracked with helicopters, darted and tranquilised. Sensors are then implanted in their horns so their whereabouts can be monitored – but it’s an approach that’s not without its problems, according to Watson. “The problem is if [the] sensors stop speaking to each other, the animal is either dead or the horn had been hacked off,” he says.
To stop the animals being killed, Dimension Data together with Cisco have been working on a system which tracks the poachers rather than the animals. In 2015, the companies developed the Connected Conservation project for a private game reserve alongside Kruger National Park in South Africa. “We approached it in a different way,” he says. “What we do is protect the land against people, and those people are illegal people. We are creating a safe haven for the animals to roam free.”
The system works by using the internet of things (IoT) to track the movements of people on the reserve. The system uses a multi-point routing network set around the parameters and includes magnetic sensors buried under the ground as well as thermal and CCTV cameras. Information from these devices is sent to a control room where everything is monitored 24 hours a day. Rangers can also use iPads to see if there had been any incursions if they are out driving.
The technology has seemingly had a huge impact, with the number of rhino poaching incidents falling by 96 per cent during the first year of its use, and with no rhinos poached in 2017.
The project’s success has led to planned introductions in Zambia, Mozambique and Northern Kenya. “We want to extend the programme into Africa,” says Watson. “What we want to do is eradicate all forms of poaching at the end of the day. We want to protect all species for generations to come. We want people to come to Africa and see all species.”
The data generated by tracking poaching is helping the group find better ways to tackle the problem. “We are continually building up databases, looking at the data and the analytics,” Watson explains. “What we are trying to do is make better informed decisions around what solutions we are going to put in. We collect the data. We analyse it. Things like incursions, fence cuts, shots being fired – all these sorts of things are data that we are putting together.” And with a clearer picture gradually emerging of when poachers enter the reserve to hunt animals, the poaching epidemic might finally have a cure.