The Internet of Things Is Rescuing Rhinos

June 15, 2018 - 4 minutes read

The Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding more into enterprise applications every day. But one of the most fascinating IoT developments isn’t occurring in an office; it’s happening in the savanna.

IoT is helping save rhinos in Africa. But contrary to the common assumption, it’s not doing so by tracking the rhinos. Instead, IoT is being used to track possible poachers. Using a combination of networking, sensors, and analytics, IoT is helping rhinos (and other endangered species) avoid human-caused extinction.

Pitfalls in Tracking Poachers

The black rhino was near extinction in 1995, but conservation efforts managed to save the species. The Western Black Rhino, unfortunately, met extinction, as did the Northern White Rhino, when the last male died earlier this year. More than three rhinos are poached per day in South Africa, setting South Africa on a path to be rid of rhinos by 2025.

Drones and on-site protection aren’t enough for dwindling rhino populations anymore; the amount of manpower and resources required by these tactics make them unsustainable. One alternative approach is tracking herd behavior in animals to watch for abnormalities that occur when a threat is present.

The data is stored in an IBM Watson cloud system that continues analysis on the identified threat. As more data is collected, it’s easier to detect poachers versus natural predators. Unfortunately, like the drone solution, this approach requires a hook-up to a data connection for cloud access, which is unreliable in Africa right now.

Improvements from IoT

Another option that utilizes IoT to track people near a given perimeter may prove to be a more sustainable method. Since 2015, Cisco and London-based Dimension Data have been testing the technology in an unnamed rhino reserve in South Africa with successful results.

With a fixed radio network, cameras, sensors, and real-time analytics, alerts are sent to rangers when a certain pattern of activity is seen by the system. The cloud component of the system is small: a connection is only needed to back up critical data off of the sanctuary’s property.

“The biggest challenges are torrential rain, downpours, and lightning, along with the heat,” says Wolf Stinnes, a solutions architect at Dimension Data. “We trained up the people on the ground—the warden, the head of security, and all the control center operators that work for them—to operate the systems themselves.”

Every person and vehicle that comes to the reserve is tracked, and with predictive analytics, the researchers know when the person or vehicle should be exiting the rhino sanctuary. Drones can be sent in a pinch, and so can rangers onboard helicopters with a birds-eye view of the rhinos.

Preserving a Future for Animals

This led to a 96% reduction in rhinos poached in the sanctuary, with no rhinos lost in 2017. Ranger response time dropped down from an average of 30 minutes to 7 minutes.

Both Dimension Data and Cisco want to continue eliminating or drastically reducing poaching, trafficking, and illegal fishing across the world and across hundreds of other species, like pangolins, tigers, sharks, and manta rays. While it will require a lot of engineering and time, it will certainly help fend off poachers, who often continue their activities while risking harsh punishments if caught.

What other endangered species could benefit from IoT? Let us know what you think about this approach to stopping poaching!

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