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IBM uses IoT to protect South African rhinos

Steve Rogerson
September 28, 2017

Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa is using IBM IoT technology to protect rhinoceros from poachers in a collaboration that includes African teleco MTN, Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Prodapt.
As part of MTN Connected Wildlife, the aim is to help predict threats and combat the poaching of endangered rhinos, with the intent to expand this to other reserves in future.
Today South Africa is home to more than 70 per cent of the world's remaining rhino population. Conservationists are battling to protect the dwindling number of these iconic animals that are being killed for their highly-prized horns. Over the past decade, more than 7000 rhinos were killed across the African continent and in 2016 1054 were reported killed in South Africa alone.
“One of our primary objectives is to protect wildlife, especially endangered species,” said Bradley Schroder, chief executive officer of Welgevonden Game Reserve. “We were looking for a solution that would help us better understand possible threats and weed out those coming from poachers so we can react ahead of time and prevent harm to animals. This project will be a profound breakthrough in the creation of connected wildlife, a wildlife management concept that aims to harness IoT technology to better manage and protect wildlife and other assets.”
This predictive capability stems from research performed by Wageningen University. Ranked the best university in the Netherlands for 12 straight years, the university has an animal sciences group focused on research and education related to the health and welfare of animals and people. According to research conducted on Welgevonden Game Reserve, 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.
This research has been combined with MTN Connected Wildlife, which uses IBM’s IoT technology and the university’s predictive analytics to give game reserves a tool in the fight to save endangered species. Protecting the rhinos begins with fitting collars containing custom sensors onto prey-animals including zebra, wildebeest, eland and impala, which will transmit data about their behaviour to the IoT platform.
The data collected from the LoRa sensors are communicated via the LoRaWan network server and backhauled over the MTN 3G and 4G network.
Through the platform, the technology collects animal location information, movement, direction and average speed of travel, along with other data. The data are used by Wageningen University to create approximately 20 rule-based patterns based on the animals’ response to threats. As a result, animals such as zebra will act as sentinels with their response patterns becoming an early warning system to protect the rhinos.
The predictive nature of this takes away the reliance on game reserve teams to be in the right place at the right time, or to respond to events, such as the distant sound of gunfire; and the teams can take proactive action that keeps rhinos safe.
“Over the years, we have seen that animal tracking technology has been used reactively in game reserves,” said Mariana Kruger, general manager at MTN Business. “Welgevonden needed a more proactive solution to take the fight to protect the rhinos further. With this, MTN, along with our partners, can better predict and anticipate potential poaching activity. This allows the ranger to take pre-emptive action before any threat happens.”
Welgevonden Game Reserve was chosen for its specialist wildlife management expertise, its well-known research and development capabilities as well as its reputation in rhino protection.
“Welgevonden is one of the best managed game reserves in the world and we need such skills to ensure the success of a project of this nature,” said Herbert Prins, a professor at Wageningen University.
MTN is an emerging innovator in the IoT, with hundreds of clients across 22 countries. The telco is building an ecosystem of vertical partners and an ecosystem of over three million active M2M connections. Together these connected devices, sensors and systems provide insight while solving business problems around the continent.
“The internet of things is changing the way we live and work, and we are finding new applications for IBM’s IoT technologies in businesses across the spectrum," said Hamilton Ratshefola, country general manager for IBM South Africa. “Now we're helping curb rhino poaching and preserve endangered species on the African continent."
IBM’s IoT technology features cognitive computing capabilities that don’t merely gather and predict but understand the patterns and relationships in the massive amounts of data being collected by the sensors in field.