Mother rhino with child rhino in wild

Anti-poacher sensor networks deployed in nature reserves

Image credit: Dreamstime

A mixture of connected sensors, CCTV, and biometrics have been deployed in a South African game reserve to prevent poachers from decimating the already declining rhino populations. It will now be expanded to other nature reserves worldwide.

Demand for rhino horn in some Asian countries is high, due to its perceived use as an aphrodisiac or as a component in traditional medicines.

Dimension Data and Cisco first introduced its Connected Conversation effort in 2015, which uses the technology to track the whereabouts of poachers rather than the animals they are trying to protect. The collection of sensors and cameras will alert park rangers to the whereabouts of poachers as soon as they are detected.

Unlike other solutions used, which include embedding the horns of rhinos with sensors, the endangered animals remain undisturbed and free to roam in their natural habitat.

White rhinos are currently near threatened, while black rhinos are classified as endangered, with little more than 5,000 of the latter remaining, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

Zambia is one of the first countries aside from South Africa to be the recipient of the technology, although there are interested parties in India, New Zealand and beyond.

Furthermore, the networks could be used to conserve other endangered species globally such as elephants, lions, pangolins and tigers in India and Asia. It can even be used to protect ocean dwelling life such as sea rays, sharks and whales.

“There are 7,000 endangered species all over the globe, but what we’re going to do is take the solution and move it into India,” said Bruce Watson, conservationist and group executive of the Cisco Alliance at Dimension Data. “We’ve had two requests out of tiger parks in India, then going to Asia, and we’ve even had a request out of a bay in New Zealand, to look at protecting rays, whales and sharks.

“We’ve been contacted by a park in Montana, it’s going to be a massive prairie park, probably one of the biggest reserves in the world, to look at putting our solution into that. And then we’ll take it into South America as well, looking at protecting jaguars and mountain lions.”

The project has been a success for the area so far, which has not lost a rhino to poaching since January 2017. In its first two years of operation, it reduced poaching in the reserve by 96 per cent.

Nationally, South Africa has reported a drop in poaching, with 508 rhinos killed in the first eight months of 2018: a 26 per cent decrease from the same period in 2017.

However, Watson warned that poachers are continuously trying alternative tricks to get into the reserve: “Often what they do is leopard crawl across a road for example on their elbows and knees, so you can’t pick up the tracks of shoes, or feet for that matter,” he said. “Sometimes they put their shoes on the wrong way round so (it looks as if) they are exiting the reserve, as opposed to entering the reserve. Sometimes they put a plastic bottle on their feet so it looks like a small antelope crossing the road.”

Recently Intel announced its own AI solution to poaching that uses cameras capable of object detection and image classification so that the local wildlife is not picked up but human activity is highlighted. Last year, E&T looked at a number of different projects designed to protect endangered wildlife including GPS-trackable imitation eggs and turtle tagging. 

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