As part of their commemoration to World Rhino Day, which was held on September 22, technology conglomerate IBM, African telecommunications company MTN, researchers from Wageningen University, and IT provider Prodapt launched a “connected wildlife solution” to combat poachers in real-time. Currently in its trial testing stages, the program is being used at the Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa to protect endangered rhinos in the area. Ongoing poaching has attributed significantly to the continually dwindling numbers of South Africa’s rhinos, where it’s estimated more than 70 percent of the animal’s world population resides. In 2016 alone, over 1050 rhinos were killed in South Africa by illegal poachers.
“Poachers have been increasing in numbers and they have become more militarized,” says Welgevonden Game Reserve CEO Bradley Schroder. “The only way to stop them is to bring in technology and things that they do not have.”
One resource these poachers also do not have is getting animals of the surrounding environment to work in their favor. A core facet of this project involves the participation of smaller prey-animals that share the same habitat as rhinos like wildebeests, zebras, and impalas. IBM is utilizing the preservation’s other four-legged residents to form an early warning system for tracking poachers in real time.
The involvement of other local animal species like wildebeests, impalas, and zebras is centered around predictable habits and movement patterns these animals make that animal sciences researchers at Wageningen University started to recognize. According to their research, the aforementioned prey-animals (when in the wild) will react to threats individually, based on the scenario’s circumstances. Basically, prey-animals will respond completely differently to the presence of natural predators like lions and leopards than human poachers. Zebras for example, usually move in unison when defending themselves against normal predators like big cats. Human poachers on the other hand, will cause zebras to scatter in different directions when their presence is detected.
Wageningen University’s research is a pivotal part of the “Connected Wildlife Solution,” which infused IBM’s IoT technology, predictive analytics, and MTN’s connectivity networks. The team developed connected collars, which are attached to prey-animal species like the ones mentioned earlier. Using a low-power wide area (LoRA) network along with MTN’s 3G and 4G connections, the team is able to pick up the collars transmitting the animal’s movements, which are monitored and recorded in the central platform. This lets game reserve teams receive alerts when these animals behave in a way that indicates poachers are present in the area. As a result, conservation teams can respond quickly and more accordingly so they can be in the right place and make the necessary decisions to keep the area’s rhinos safe.
“One of our primary objectives is to protect wildlife, especially endangered species. We were looking for a solution that would help us better understand possible threats and weed out those coming from poachers so we can react ahead of time and prevent harm to animals,” says Schroder, who considers the collaborative project with IBM as a significant breakthrough in the fight against illegal poaching. “This project will be a profound breakthrough in the creation of connected wildlife solutions, a wildlife management concept that aims to harness IoT technology to better manage and protect wildlife and other assets.”
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)