A technology-based project to protect rhinoceroses from poaching in South Africa has been expanded to a LoRaWAN network that monitors conditions throughout nine parks on the African continent. The largest and most recent deployment was led by Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT) and the Connected Conservation Foundation (CCF), and it employs LoRaWAN gateways from Cisco and data management from Actility. The network and the resulting data are being leveraged to cover more conservancies, protect the environment, and track how animal and human life can cohabitate.
Already, the IoT network covers 22 of NRT’s conservancies, as well as four private reserves. Approximately 24 gateways are now online, with endangered animals, livestock, poaching activity-hunting dogs and vehicles being tagged to enhance the data being collected. Thus far, 190 gateway devices have been deployed, with a goal of 250 in total. Actility’s contribution to the project is its ThingPark platform, which includes sensor integration and real-time monitoring of network operations.
By leveraging LoRaWAN IoT sensors and our robust ThingPark platform, parks and environmental groups can monitor network operations in real time,” says Pavel Zaitsau, Actility’s marketing director. “The capabilities of this technology are transforming the way conservation programs operate, offering long-lasting, cost-effective and secure sensors to combat poaching and protect endangered species and their habitats.”
Beyond poaching, Zaitsau adds, the system can help park managers better understand and address conditions that affect the environment and the animals and plants within it. For instance, an extreme drought last year in East Africa impacted grasslands, water levels, animals and local food supplies. Data collected from the solution will enable the management of details such as livestock movements (to manage foraging conditions) and water levels.
Focusıng Fırst on Rhınos ın South Afrıca
Connected Conservation’s technology-based preservation efforts began in South Africa in 2015, when Cisco and Dimension Data joined forces with conservationists in the field to determine how technology could help. The Connected Conservation Foundation was formed as a result in 2019, according to Sophie Maxwell, CCF’s executive director. At the time of the project’s inception, the poaching rates in South Africa were high, and the need to intervene was thus immediate.
For instance, Maxwell says, there are only two northern white rhinos left, whereas there are currently 6,195 black rhinos. “We just don’t want the black rhino to go the same way as the northern white rhino,” she states, referring to the white rhino’s imminent extinction. The challenge around conserving rhinos is that their horns can be worth up to $100,000 apiece. For those in the area living in poverty, poaching is sometimes an attractive financial option
The CCF and its partners deployed the LoRaWAN gateways and tagged rangers, vehicles, fences and rhinos with low-power, battery-operated transmitters that send a unique ID number linked to each animal at a distance of up to tens of kilometers. The system began collecting information about the animals’ movements, making it possible to identify changes in animal behavior, and thus potential problems. Rangers are equipped with phones linked to the solution, enabling them to be alerted if a fence or animal distress alarm has been triggered, indicating a poaching incursion is underway. Officers can then take police action by apprehending the perpetrators.
Building on the success of such detection efforts, the group began expanding the geographic coverage area and the system’s use to include tracking potential human-wildlife conflicts. Tags are now being deployed in new ways to understand the movements of predators and elephants. A LoRaWAN sensor can be applied to vehicles as they enter parks so that the system can track their movements, whether they are rangers, tourists, contractors or officials. Unexpected onsite movements can thus be detected, and alerts can be sent to the nearest ranger. In addition, tags are being applied to dogs used to track poachers. Real-time movement data from the dogs enables support teams to predict poachers’ movements. IoT
Managıng Populatıon and Wıldlıfe Coexıstence
Because farmers bring their livestock to the park areas for grazing, some tags have been applied to a single animal within a given herd. In that way, they can manage grasslands to prevent over-grazing and identify potential conflicts with wildlife. The system prompts alerts if a group of potentially dangerous animals—lions, elephants or hyenas, for instance—enter a geofenced zone. The technology can reduce such conflicts and provide greater preservation by ensuring such animals do not enter towns or residences, where they could destroy property or injure people. Those types of events, Maxwell says, create a bad situation in which communities want to retaliate.
. The technology will be used for natural resource management as well. NRT’s member conservancies combine to measure about 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres) in size, which has made understanding what is occurring in these vast areas historically challenging. The group hopes that with the technology, they can better understand what is taking place throughout that area, as well as determine whether species have sufficient water and foraging space. One challenge to address involves rangelands for rhinos in Botswana and Namibia, where poaching rates have remained high during the pandemic.
In Kenya, by contrast, the rhino population is increasing and, as a result, the animals require more grasslands and ranging area to sustain the species across the remainder of the continent. “Together with partners, we have developed the biggest [IoT] network in Africa,” Maxwell says, by connecting the four private reserves and the 22 community-led reserves. “The network is enabling us to remove fences and enable rhinos to pass freely between parks, increasing their rangelands. The data also empowers the communities, as well as the wildlife conservation teams, by helping them monitor animals and live alongside wildlife, helping them understand and manage the environmental health of the region.”
Maxwell adds, “Looking ahead, we’ll undoubtedly see the acceleration of connectivity and environmental intelligence platforms that harness big data, AI and IoT to scale the monitoring and protection of nature.” She says LoRa technology, as opposed to satellite-enabled wildlife tracking, or other systems, will be chosen due to its low cost, and because the sensors have low battery demands, which means the tags last longer. The value of LoRa, Zaitsau says, is “being able to get this remote data back from such long distances in a reliable way.” The LoRa gateways have up to 16 channels, so they can capture data from as many sensors as needed going forward.
Data from the sensors is visualized in software known as EarthRanger, which can provide analytics over a span of time. Users can set the sensors to transmit more or less frequently, such as once a day or every minute, depending on the application. Human populations in Africa are expected to increase exponentially, Maxwell says, which will put future pressure on wild places, making the IoT network that much more valuable. “Increasingly,” she states, “it will help us find and use methods to manage and safeguard that space for nature, for the benefit of everyone.”