Cisco, Dimension Data reduce rhino poaching in South Africa through IoT

More than a year after launching their Connected Conservation project, Cisco and Dimension Data have claimed that their end-to-end solution has cut rhino poaching in a South African reserve by a dramatic 96 percent.

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Rhinos in a South African game reserve

(Image: Screenshot by Tas Bindi/ZDNet)

More than a year after joining forces, Dimension Data and Cisco have said their goodwill project Connected Conservation reduced rhinoceros poaching in a South African game reserve next to the Kruger National Park by 96 percent in 2016, thanks to the use of a solution involving networks, security, Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and hybrid cloud computing.

According to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, the rhino poaching crisis in the country peaked in the last few years, with 1,054 rhinos killed in 2016 -- fewer than the 1,175 killed in 2015, but significantly higher than the 13 killed in 2007. It's believed that more than 5,000 rhinos have been poached in the region over the last eight years.

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At the moment, South Africa is home to more than 70 percent of the global rhino population, but if the rate of rhino poaching continues, the species could be extinct by 2025, according to Bruce Watson, Data Dimension's Cisco Alliance group executive.

"Without the promise of seeing rhinos, elephants, lions, and pangolin roaming the plains, tourism in South Africa and the African continent will be severely impacted," Watson added. "As a result, income in the tourism sector will decline and the knock-on effect will create further unemployment in communities."

Watson said Connected Conservation is the first conservation-related approach where the animals are not touched, leaving them to roam freely while a "layered effect" of technology, people, and gadgets protects them.

"Many organisations have committed to protecting rhinos through various reactive initiatives and using a range of devices. These may involve darting the animals with tranquilisers to insert sensors into their horns, or inserting a chip under their skin," Watson said. "This can be extremely stressful and risky for the animal."

Connected Conservation, on the other hand, uses a combination of the companies' network, IoT, security, and hybrid cloud solutions to enable the monitoring and tracking of human movement from the moment an individual enters the reserve.

"The goal of our end-to-end technology solution is to proactively intervene and stop people entering the reserve illegally -- whether it's cutting fences, being dropped onto the ground by helicopters, or simply driving through the entrance," Watson said. "Over time, the solution will be replicated in other reserves in South Africa, Africa, and globally."

In phase one of the project, which was completed in February 2016, Dimension Data and Cisco established a secure reserve area network (RAN) and installed local area networks (LANs) including Wi-Fi hotspots, CCTV cameras, and biometrics at every entrance to the private game reserve. These were all linked to a high-security management control room, which is manned 24/7.

The primary goal of phase one was to establish reliable communications for alerts and warnings, as well as enabling the sharing of live video footage so that security personnel, who are fully trained in warfare, can counter incursions.

"Previously, every day, hundreds of staff, suppliers, contractors, security personnel, and tourists entered and exited the game reserve. The human activity in the environment was not monitored because the reserve is located in a remote area with basic IT infrastructure and access control, manual security processes, and very limited communication," Watson said.

"Digitising the physical security processes provided a more reliable and accurate sequence for allowing people in and out of the reserve. This data provides the game rangers, security personnel, and the technology and control centre teams with valuable historical data, transparency, and visibility."

Watson said all individuals entering the reserve gate are required to show their ID or passport and vehicle registration plates, which are cross-checked with the South African national database and helps security personnel identify whether a person entering the reserve has a criminal record or whether the vehicle has been stolen. Sniffer dogs also check vehicles and individuals going through the gates.

Once illegal entries are detected, "specialised services" are deployed to ensure reserve staff get to the rhinos before they are killed and dehorned, Watson said.

Phase two of the project, which is currently being tested, involves collecting data on every individual entering the reserve, including fingerprints, and using predictive modelling to estimate when an individual or vehicle will enter and exit the reserve.

The solution is not limited to the rhino, nor to the South African context, Watson said. He added that Connected Conservation is a "viable, cost-effective, and replicable business model which can be rolled out anywhere in the world" to protect not only rhinos, but other endangered species such as elephants, lions, pangolin, and tigers, as well as manta rays, sharks, and whales in the ocean.

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