Saving the rhino with IOT

The Internet of things has the potential for so much more than increasing the bottom line.

Jessie Rudd
By Jessie Rudd, Technical business analyst at PBT Group
Johannesburg, 06 Apr 2017

Every day, a huge amount gets said about how the Internet of things (IOT), data analysis, data mining and predictive analytics (to name a few) can and should be used to keep companies relevant.

Much is said about how it should be giving them insight into their customer base and how it can enable a solidly green bottom line. The focus is so firmly based on profit and customer satisfaction that I think it's forgotten there are myriad applications this kind of technology can be applied to, which have absolutely nothing to do with profit. Or even really have anything to do with business. Rather, it has to do with protecting the defenceless.

As of now, there are only around 21 000 white rhinos left in Africa, and even fewer black rhinos - around 5 500. The Asian rhinos (greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan rhinos) are struggling even more, with the Javan rhino numbering less than 70 worldwide. All for the sake of a horn! A bit of keratin. The same stuff that hair and nails are made of.

I think it is clear to everyone that if there is to be any hope at all of saving these magnificent and wholly defenceless (against humans) creatures, people are going to have to think outside of the box. It is time to get creative. Using the same ruthless savvy people employ to make money, it is past time that every possible opportunity is leveraged, and a plan is formulated, before it is simply too late.

Time for action

IOT, data analysis, data mining and predictive analytics are all about harnessing massive amounts of sensor information, structured and unstructured data, social media posts, etc, to make informed, intelligent and fast decisions - decisions that affect the bottom line, but also decisions that affect the customer on a very base level. So, why not employ the same speed, the same types of insight and the same types of intelligence to saving these creatures being hunted to extinction and viciously decimated. Not too long ago, Cisco and Dimension Data started doing just this.

The reality of this continent is that GPS tracking of rhinos is commonplace.

Believed to be the first project of its kind, both companies are researching and deploying a number of different technologies in an unnamed South African reserve to fight against poachers and poaching. It's unnamed to protect the very creatures they are trying to save.

The technology they have developed harnesses the power and potential of IOT and, among other things, monitors and tracks individuals as they enter the gates of the reserve, right up until they leave. That may not sound very impressive. However, when you consider just how large some of the reserves are in Africa, and just how ruthless poachers can be, it really does become vital to track any and all suspicious behaviour in the reserve. That is simply not possible without some kind of sensor array and real-time data analysis.

Just as vital to the project is the collection, collation, analysis and vetting of information about all the employees of the park. This includes game rangers, security personnel, tech and control centre teams. Using all the information collected, a secure Reserve Area Network was created and WiFi hotspots were installed at various key points dotted around the reserve. Following this, CCTV, drones sporting infrared cameras, thermal imaging, vehicle tracking, IOT sensors and seismic IOT sensors on a secure intelligent network were deployed around the reserve.

Sadly, the reality of this continent is that GPS tracking of rhinos is commonplace. Drones are used to monitor and spot poachers, cameras are put into place to survey the long border fences, security checks are done on employees. So much data, from so many sources. Big data and IOT at its very best. So, if it can be ensured that the right people with the right skills are put into place, the good guys may just be able to win the fight by collating and interpreting all this information to predict and prevent attacks.

Poachers are generally very happy to throw large amounts of money at people. And sadly, people are all too willing to accept those large amounts of money for the sake of one sacrificial rhino.

Data is not so easily bought. It is not so easily sold out. When it is used correctly, it is powerful in the story it can tell. I really hope it will one day tell the story of how it helped to save the rhino.