If the current rate of poaching continues, there may be no rhinos left in South Africa by 2025

South African rhinos protected by high-tech network

A high-tech network incorporating drones, thermal cameras and motion sensors is being installed in a South African natural park to protect endangered rhinos.

The project, announced by Cisco and Johannesburg-headquartered network technology firm Dimension Data, hopes to stop the dangerous decline of the rhino population caused largely by illegal poaching.

In 2014 alone 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa. That means three slaughtered animals every day, mostly for their horns, which are valued in some east Asian countries for their supposed healing properties.

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs says that if the current rate of poaching continues, rhino deaths could overtake rhino births by 2018 and the rhino could be non-existent in South Africa by 2025.

“South Africa is currently home to about 70 per cent of the remaining rhinos in the world,” said Chris Dedicoat, executive vice president of Worldwide Sales for Cisco. “In close collaboration with Dimension Data, the teams moved rapidly to study and build a highly secure digital solution that provides those who are protecting the rhinos with the valuable insights, transparency and visibility they need to make effective and informed decisions against poaching.”

The new technology, which will be trialled in an unnamed private game reserve adjacent to the renowned Kruger National Park, is completely non-invasive and doesn’t require the technologists to even touch the animals. The focus in this case is not on monitoring the rhinos but people entering the reserve.

“Every day, hundreds of staff, suppliers, contractors, security personnel and tourists enter and exit game reserves,” explained Dimension Data executive, Bruce Watson.

“The human activity in these environments is not monitored because, typically, the reserve is in a remote location with basic IT infrastructure and access control, manual security processes, and very limited communication.”

The new project, dubbed Connected Conservation, is based on on a Wi-Fi network which will connect reserve-patrolling drones, seismic and thermal sensors, as well as CCTV cameras. The intelligent network was trained using data from the rangers, security personnel and control centre teams, to understand the regular movement of people within the reserve. The system in future should be able to determine if someone is entering the reserve illegally and initiate an emergency response.

The team hopes that in the future the system would be deployed in other natural reserves in South Africa and beyond, protecting not only rhinos but other species threatened by poaching as well, including elephants, lions, pangolin, tigers in India and Asia, and even sea rays in the ocean.

Current technologies used by conservationists to monitor and protect rhinos usually involve inserting chips under the skin or into the horns. The procedure, however, is far from harmless as the animals need to be tranquilised and cases have been reported of the animals dying or going blind in the process.

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