Protecting endangered species like rhinos from poachers has always been a top priority in park management, especially at national parks like the Serengeti. A few months ago, I wrote a piece that covered how researchers were utilizing IoT technology to monitor and protect endangered rhinos from poachers, which was just one of multiple innovative ways conservationists are combating this issue. While these efforts have been ongoing for a long time, their operations have been made easier due to recent advances in data communications technology.
Devices like geolocation sensors implanted in rhino’s horns and novel wireless telecommunications technology like low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) are enabling park rangers at the Serengeti to track the park’s rhinos from a central location. In addition, these upgrades allow the rangers to redirect their surveillance efforts wherever the animals are at any given time.
“If you have the information on where the animals are, then you can guide the protection to them,” says Laurens de Groot, a co-founder of Smart Parks, the organization that’s implementing this tracking technology at the Serengeti. “We can place the sensors on tourist vehicles, fences, water level measures, rangers—you can see everything you need from one control room.”
Smart Parks have been working on data communications system optimization in wildlife conservation for five years, and aims to make everything in the park measurable so workers know how to evaluate certain circumstances. Every aspect of environmental science and management has a common factor at heart—data, which varies significantly across disciplines and projects based on how they’re collected and the form that data takes. In recent years, LPWANs have sent waves in data collection relative to better-known data collection and transmission tools of WiFi, Bluetooth, and mobile internet. WiFi and Bluetooth respectively have limited ranges of 30-50 meters and 10 meters, while mobile internet ranges span greater distances, and can carry data at the high rates required for supporting voice calls, and video and image sharing, but required larger amounts of power.
LPWAN uses low radio frequency bands so it can send and receive data across 5 kilometers in more urbanized areas and up to 150 kilometers without any obstacles. As far as power requirements, LPWAN batteries can last up to 10 years. The technology is powerful enough to communicate sensor data, which is normally a small collection of temperature, speed, and density measurements. Combining distance and low power needs make the technology ideal for tracking endangered species, along with other conservation and environmental protection matters. Having said that, there are concerns poachers could co-opt LPWANs and use them to find and steal animals, but de Groot isn’t too worried.
“In 2018, it’s almost ridiculous to say something can’t be hacked. But our data is very well encrypted, and the signal is sent on such low power that you’d need to be highly skilled to even detect it, let alone decrypt and read the data,” says de Groot. “By that point, the animal you were tracking would probably have moved on anyway.”
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)