A NEW AGE OF ANTI-POACHING EFFORTS

Imagine a time where rhinos, elephants and other species of our beloved animals of Africa become nothing more than a memory or a fireside story. Extinction lasts forever and can’t be reversed. The time to do something is now while these wonderful creatures still roam the earth, and thankfully – the world’s advances in modern technology are here to helps us reach our goals!

Anti-poaching efforts all around the world have been working hard. Successfully in some places, but less so in others due to reasons such as a lack of resources, funding, accessibility or knowledge. However, with technological advancements, resources are becoming more accessible, and in-time will become more cost-effective.

Kruger National Park officials performing a rhino rescue operation

One immensely successful method of decreasing poaching activity in the Kruger National Park is the Postcode Meerkat; a mobile system that can be deployed almost anywhere via a vehicle or helicopter. This intricate robotic system is used for ground surveillance and includes radar, long-range cameras, thermal cameras, and high-end analysis software that can detect, track and identify people or vehicles entering certain areas.

Kruger National Parks’ Mobile Postcode Meerkat device. Fighting poaching one photo at a time.

Stepping up rhino protection, South Africa’s most famous rhino sanctuary – Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park sprung a cluster of new security buildings with high-tech surveillance equipment located in a fenced-off area called the Nerve Centre. Established with the help of the Peace Parks Foundation, the US State Department and various other donors, the Nerve Centre is now the new-and-improved, joint tactical operation centre for all anti-poaching efforts in the region, and is fully equipped with an array of high-end surveillance tech.

Equipped with an array of data-capturing surveillance tech, these types of technologies allow law enforcement officials to track down poachers before they even enter a surveyed area. The captured data comes from a combination of aerial imagery captured via satellite, patrol aircraft and drones, as well as motion-triggered, camera traps that are strategically placed throughout the whole park. But it doesn’t stop there.

There are now new security networks that incorporate better communication devices for the rangers in the field, that arm them with improved equipment like microchips and DNA sampling kits that test for traces of rhino horn, and so much more.

Members of a forensics perform an autopsy in an attempt to collect evidence at the scene of a recently poached Rhino at The Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga. A group of three men appeared in the Skukuza Regoinal Court in connection with the poaching of three Rhino on Sunday. Picture: Alaister Russell/The Times

 

Known as “Lab-In-A-Box” this DNA kit makes speedy identification of species possible. Just like the barcoding of consumer products, Lab-In-A-Box makes use of a barcode that can provide vital information such as the species, biology, ecology and socio-economic significance of the animal that the sample came from – allowing law enforcement officials to quickly identify whether they are dealing with an endangered species. This kit is one of the new and improved ways to combat wildlife trafficking and enhance conservation- and ecosystem-monitoring. In the parks where it’s being used, rangers also have access to Cmore software technology platform – but what exactly is Cmore?

With all these advanced technologies in place, it becomes very easy to get drowned with information, which is where Cmore software comes in handy! Cmore software is used to automatically sift through the volumes of information collected, and return it in a simple and concise report. Camera traps can be triggered by the wind, trees or animals, leading to tens-of-thousands of images being captured, but with software like Cmore the images can be filtered down from thousands to just a few hundred.

On the topic of software, the Peace Parks Foundation has been making use of Microsoft Azure-enabled artificial intelligence (AI), which is a system that allows data to be analysed and interpreted before it is sent to park officials for further investigation. Peace Parks stated that in one scenario over 25 000 images were captured over a time of three months, but with the help of the AI system, the images were filtered down to less than 1 300 images and that it proved to be much more efficient and effective than human analysis.

Peace Parks Foundation making use of high-end Microsoft Azure-enabled artificial intelligence technology.

 

Other countries like Zambia have announced that they will be launching a pilot project, making use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or drones – to focus on environmental monitoring. Drones deployed country-wide will be surveying national parks for any poaching threats, for wildlife surveys, and human-wildlife conflicts so that it can be monitored and managed.

High-end conservation drone used by parks and reserves

This shows us how we can help conservation parks nationwide to defeat the evil cycle of poaching. Once a strong foundation of adequate human training and skills has been established, awareness surrounding these new and advanced technologies should be created – and not only among the parks’ staff but the public as well. The more that people can understand why and how this technology is beneficial, the better the chances are in receiving the necessary funding, which in turn would hopefully encourage a massive drop in the poaching industry.

These technologies could end the on-going threat of extinction to our sacred animals and restore the hope that our great-grandchildren won’t have to read about them in history books. A little goes a long way, so start spreading the solutions.

 

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