Connected Conservation : How IoT Saved The Rhinos

In just two years the Connected Conservation project launched by Cisco and Dimension Data has reduced poaching near the Kruger National Park by 96%

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Kruger National Park in South Africa is home to the largest number of rhinos in the world, and at the same breath, the park is also infamous for the maximum number of poaching. Every year more than 1000 rhinos are killed in South Africa which equates three rhinos poached every day. It was estimated that, if this number continues, rhinos would face extinction by 2025. According to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs’ Report 2015, a staggering 1,215 rhinos were killed by poachers in 2014 alone.

Not just rhinos, every year an estimated 27,000 elephants are killed (8% of the African savanna population) in Africa accounting to an elephant being poached every 15 minutes.

Theses are scary numbers for a healthy ecological equilibrium and certainly not a situation that human beings can afford to overlook.

Though government agencies and environment protection organisations across the globe are fighting this menace for centuries, the outcome has not been as desired. Now, technology firms have joined hands to deploy new age solutions like IoT to complement these efforts. One such effort was the Connected Conservation project jointly commissioned by Cisco and Dimension Data.

Connected Conservation : The Project

Dimension Data, a technology company based out of South Africa, and Cisco joined hands in 2015 to launch a project called Connected Conservation to protect the endangered animals across the globe. To start with, the project used high-end technologies and innovative methods to protect the rhinos being poached at a private forest reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The result : in just two years the Connected Conservation project has reduced poaching in the reserve by 96%.

“Due to this success, today we are pleased to announce that in 2018 Dimension Data and Cisco will be expanding the project into more regions in Africa to protect more species of animals,” says Bruce Watson, Group Executive: Cisco Alliance, Dimension Data. “Specifically, we will be rolling it out to Zambia and Mozambique, to protect the elephant, and Kenya, to protect both the elephant and rhino.”

A Unique Solution
Connected Conservation is a success not only in the sharp decrease in the number of rhinos poached, but also in its innovative approach, says Watson. Unlike any other solution ever used, the endangered animals remain undisturbed and free to roam in their natural habitat – while technology is used to track the movement of people (and potential poachers) coming in and out of the reserve.

Many organisations have committed to protecting animals through various reactive initiatives, such as dehorning, or inserting sensors in the horn and subcutaneously.

“However, the problem with reactive initiatives is that by the time the reserve rangers reach the animal, it has been killed and the rhino horn or elephant tusks have been hacked off,” he adds.

The method Dimension Data and Cisco have deployed is a very simple one – to monitor and control human access to the forest reserve by using sophisticated technologies. These technologies would proactively intervene and stop people entering the reserve illegally – whether it’s cutting fences, being dropped onto the ground by helicopters, or simply driving in through the entrance gates.

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

“With our Connected Conservation technology, we don’t touch the animals by darting them with tranquilisers to insert sensors into their horns, or insert a chip under their skin. This can be extremely stressful and risky for the animal and we’ve seen a number of rhinos either dying, or going blind, and having to be euthanased,” he explains.

In phase one of the project, Dimension Data worked closely with Cisco to gather information from the game rangers, security personnel, technology, and control centre teams. The first step was to create a highly secure Reserve Area Network (RAN) and install Wi-Fi hotspots around key points, which is completed.

Phase two of the Connected Conservation project will incorporate CCTV, drones with infrared cameras; thermal imaging, vehicle tracking sensors, as well as seismic sensors on a highly secure intelligent network. Dimension Data has also deployed the Reserve Area Networks (RANs) using Cisco technology which will be one of the first installations of its kind in the world.

In using a combination of Cisco technology of digital infrastructure, hybrid cloud, digital workplace, and cybersecurity, the Connected Conservation Pilot was able to overcome many limitations often faced by game reserves in these remote locations. These include manual security processes (lock and key), very basic access control, a lack of basic IT infrastructure, limited communications capabilities – and harsh environment and changing weather patterns.

Going Forward
Over time, both the firms assert the technology will be replicated in other reserves in South Africa, Africa, and globally, to not only protect rhino, but conserve other endangered species including elephants, lions, pangolin, tigers in India and Asia, and even sea rays , sharks and whales in the ocean.

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