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Opinion & Analysis

Tackling poaching with Internet of Things

Poaching may change if the deployment of IBM’s Internet of Things (IoT) in South Africa to protect the African rhino succeeds. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Poaching may change if the deployment of IBM’s Internet of Things (IoT) in South Africa to protect the African rhino succeeds. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Poaching is one of Africa’s greatest menaces. It threatens to decimate some of the iconic animals on the continent, including the rhino and the elephant. That may change if the deployment of IBM’s Internet of Things (IoT) in South Africa to protect the African rhino succeeds.

On September 19 2017, MTN, a leading African telecommunications provider in partnership with Wageningen University of the Netherlands and Prodapt, a technology provider, joined hands to pilot IBM’s IoT technology. The solution is meant to predict threats and combat the poaching of endangered rhinos at Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa. They hope to expand the solution to other game reserves in the region.

Eric Brown, in his September 2016 Linux.com article titled ‘‘Who Needs the Internet of Things?’’, defines IoT as “the network of physical devices, vehicles, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.”

The technology, therefore, will enable authorities to understand the threats and deal with them before the poachers can harm the animals. The applications of IoT are many and in virtually all industries including education, agriculture, health, manufacturing and more.

In logistics, for example, IoT applications tracks goods in real time providing for information exchange about inventory in retail stores and their suppliers. IoT also is widely used to automate goods delivery, thereby increasing organizational supply chain efficiency.

Its application into the national reserves that in most cases are vast and difficult to manage will increase productivity in responding to threats. This technology, although fairly new, has been widely used in the agricultural sector to improve efficiencies.

As the population grows, the demand for food will continue to grow, necessitating greater production to feed the growing population. Farming data will be in great demand as those leveraging data from the technology have better yields.

In some farms in Naivasha, farmers use sensors to monitor soil nutrients and moisture. Others, some of using irrigation systems linked to IoT, are using the technology to determine fertilizer requirements as well controlling water usage for greater yields.

Wide scale use of IoT especially in agriculture will solve another bigger problem that threatens both the rhino and the elephant – the human wildlife conflict – as a result of declining land resources. In my view, if we need to be effective with the protection of the endangered animals, we must deal with the problems much more comprehensively.

Kenya, like South Africa, has an endemic poaching problem. However, the situation in Kenya unlike South Africa is compounded by the problem of a more intense human wildlife conflict.

Kenya Wildlife Service’s annual reports of between 2009 and 2015 show that poaching steadily increased from 2009, peaking in 2013 when 59 rhinos were lost.

Since then, incidents of poaching began to decline but as in the past, this could be a lull before it intensifies again. The human wildlife conflict, however, has worsened with several animals having been killed in Kajiado and Narok counties. It is perhaps technology that will eventually deal with the problems of poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

There is great hope that the predictive capability of IoT application in game reserves would work owing to the fact that laboratory research studies at Wageningen University proved to be positive.

According to the press release during the launch in South Africa, the university features “an animal sciences group focused on research and education related to the health and welfare of animals and people.” Their study at Welgevonden Game Reserve revealed that “prey-animals in the wild react in different ways, depending on the type of threat they encounter and the perceived danger from predators such as lion and leopard or the presence of people in the vicinity.”

Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan peope, once said: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

Let’s use technology to stop poaching. That way we won’t be hurting the animals.

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