The scourge of rhino poaching will rapidly lead to the total annihilation of these beautiful animals, thereby robbing children and future generations of the opportunity to see them roaming free.
The same is true for many other species in Africa, and elsewhere in the world, as a fine balance between human development and conservation has to be struck on a daily basis.
MTN’s Connected Wildlife Solution is currently in a fully operational pilot phase at Welgevonden Game Reserve. The initial planning began 23 months ago, and currently the solution is providing hope and tipping the scales in favour of endangered species like rhinos and those working hard to save them.
According to Mariana Kruger, General Manager for ICT Solutions at MTN Business, initial results are leading to totally unexpected but highly illuminating insights. For instance, how animal behaviour changes during a full moon, reading clear danger signals in a breeding camp where no predators were known to hunt (it was subsequently determined an escaped leopard was on the prowl), and the very different reactions to a ranger vehicle approaching versus a predator.
“We are only scratching the surface of what predictive analytics, cognitive computing and Big Data can teach us about animal behaviour. However, when it comes to rhino poaching, the aim is to harness this data to radically bring down the number of kills by using sensors on animals in the park to determine danger levels and set teams in motion to save the animals,” says Kruger.
With 1.4 rhinos being killed every day in South Africa, reserves and lodges need to effectively hire small armies to save and protect their animals. Not only does this lead to higher manpower and overall costs, but the lives of rangers are also put at serious risk every day in the battles they have to fight in the wild.
“It is organised crime and the immense amount of manpower and money that has to go in to saving rhinos is not sustainable,” says Kruger, who will be discussing the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on conservation in Africa at the Gartner/ ITXpo in Cape Town from 18 to 21 September 2017.
IoT is the next wave of inter-connectivity set to change the face of business by delivering practical solutions to many of the problems being faced today. It uses identifiers – which can be linked to any object – to seamlessly transfer data over a network. In the current project the identifiers are unique sensor collars placed on four different species of prey animals that roam the Welgevonden Game Reserve with the rhinos.
For a 38,000 hectare rugged and hilly reserve with no cell coverage, this is ground-breaking.
For this project, MTN, with wide reach into 22 African countries, IBM, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and Prodapt, joined forces in what is a truly collaborative cross-continental project to harness their skills. New generation technologies like MTN’s LoRaWAN Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN), and Narrow Band-IoT to support its machine2machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, are also being used to solve other crucial socio-economic and industry-related problems like smart water metering, truck hijacking prevention and security of business-critical information.
MTN’s network capability is a key differentiator. In the case of the Connected Wildlife Solution, the data collected from the sensors is communicated via a wide area network server and backhauled over the MTN 3G/4G network. In this way connected devices, sensors and systems provide insight while assisting in solving one of the worst conservation crises in history.
It is hoped the innovative solution can bring poaching down to just one a year globally, while also saving major costs for the industry.
“It is a huge ask but the real reason we got involved in this is because we want to give the next generation a chance to actually see a rhino and not just learn about how they became extinct and how little was done to stop that from happening,” says Kruger.
The pilot phase of the project is set to provide enough inputs and use cases to drive further rollout in the next few months.
“This is just the first phase of the solution – we have several other initiatives – but it is important to say the first portion of the pilot has been completed,” says Kruger.
MTN has handed the information received to date to the university and the reserve to start the data collection process, which is expected to take six months.
“We plan to expand this to many more reserves and also to assist in other countries around the world. Urgent action is needed now – by combining forces we can really make a difference and protect our world for those that will be living here long after we are gone,” concludes Kruger.