Sensors pinpoint where incursions take place

Poachers prefer to work at night, using cover of darkness to hide their illicit activities from rangers.

Mr Bruce Watson wants to end that. The group executive of technology company Dimension Data's Cisco Alliance believes technology can help get rid of this "blind spot" in the fight to save endangered wildlife.

For instance, thermal imaging equipment, sensors and cameras installed along the perimeter fence of a game reserve could alert rangers to people trying to enter the reserve illegally. This would allow them to intervene before an animal gets killed.

The results of a pilot programme using such technology have been encouraging. The Connected Conservation programme, a joint initiative of Dimension Data and Cisco, is being tested at a private game reserve in South Africa, home to the endangered rhinoceros. Since the technology was installed in January last year, there has been a 96 per cent reduction in the number of dead rhinos.

A key component of the system is the network of sensors installed along the perimeter fence of the 62,000ha reserve.

The sensors send alerts to the control station when it detects an anomaly, for instance, a person climbing the fence. The ranger receiving this information knows exactly where the incursion has occurred and can dispatch a helicopter to the site within eight minutes. Without the technology, it would take hours to identify a break-in, by which time the poacher would have escaped.

The next phase of the pilot will look at, among other things, how seismic sensors can be deployed to ensure all vehicles entering the reserve stay on the trail and do not venture into other areas.

There are already positive signs, said Mr Watson, who has more than 20 years of experience in the South African bush. The Straits Times saw 15 rhinos within two hours while on a game drive on Tuesday. This was the biggest number of rhinos he had seen on a single drive.

The hope is that the technology can be replicated in other reserves in Africa and globally to aid in the conservation of endangered species, including elephants, lions, pangolins, tigers and even sea rays.

Mr Chris Dedicoat, executive vice-president of worldwide sales for Cisco, said the technology provides those protecting the rhinos with the "valuable insights, transparency and visibility they need to make effective and informed decisions against poaching".

Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Sensors pinpoint where incursions take place'. Print Edition | Subscribe