CONTRIBUTOR

When it comes to news and keeping us updated on animal conservation, we only have to scroll through social media feeds to view reels and stories of endangered, vulnerable and threatened species. Currently, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) species directory, the critically endangered list is getting longer.

 

 

Will future generations even know an Asian elephant, an orangutan or a black rhino? Up to now, it’s a bleak outlook for many species. The private conservancy of Ol Pejeta on Kenya’s Laikipia plateau shelters the only two northern white rhinos left on earth. That really brings it home in understanding the need for conservation and closely monitored wildlife parks.

Black Market – Bleak Future?

Monitoring conservancies at scale to prevent poaching – the illegal trafficking and killing of wild animals – and create a safe haven for animals has always been a difficult task. Poaching is a serious threat to many wild species and especially where they should be safest — protected in wildlife parks and conservation areas. The sheer size of these vast, hostile areas makes it hard to monitor the animals within them. The global trade in wildlife is a major black market that has only increased with wealth. This problem has recently led to a positive breakthrough via a digital transformation initiative.

Game Changing Solution

In Africa, there’s finally some good news on the horizon as technology comes to the rescue with a new game-changing solution for big game conservation. Northern Kenya is pioneering Africa’s largest landscape-wide Internet of Things (IOT) conservation network. How is this possible? By leveraging the use of LoRaWAN IoT sensors. These networks collect data and analyze it at scale.

It’s an enterprising project led by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Connected Conservation Foundation (CCF) and Cisco, the long-term partner of Actility, a provider of low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) industrial-grade connectivity solutions for the Internet of Things. The project is providing real-time environmental and wildlife data and crucial situational awareness to conservation park managers. And, knowing exactly where and when to deploy rangers cuts down on wasted surveillance and the ensuing security costs.

About LoRaWAN IoT Technology

The emerging technology provides a robust signal coverage — as many of these vast conservation areas have zero connectivity. Battery-powered sensors communicate via a long-range connection. The difference in this technology and a satellite-enabled solution is cost, with LoRaWAN being significantly lower and having a long battery life. For the wildlife conservancies, this means a low-cost solution that works.

Where is the New Technology Deployed?

Currently, 22 of NRT’s conservancies are covered, plus four private reserves, namely:

  • Lewa Wildlife Conservancy – A wildlife sanctuary incorporating the Ngare Ndare Forest and covering over 62,000 acres; a home to black rhinos, Grevy’s zebras and sitatungas.
  • Ol Jogi – A vast sanctuary and home to elephants, giraffes and rhinos, the park also runs safaris and upmarket holiday lodging.
  • Loisaba – 57,000 acres of wildlife park in Laikipia, offering high-end tented accommodation and the chance to see three lion prides, the endangered reticulated giraffe and the African wild dog amongst other species.
  • Borana – situated on the edge of the Laikipia Plateau, and Kenya’s newest and most successful rhino sanctuary.

Over 190 new sensors have been deployed, with more scheduled, reaching 250 in the next few months. I connected with Sophie Maxwell, executive director at CCF. “The scale of this conservation IoT initiative is mind-blowing. It’s a privilege to equip community-led conservation teams with technologies to protect wildlife, natural ecosystems and improve livelihoods. This cross-conservancy, IoT conservation network is changing the way private and community-led conservancies work together,” she said.

The Human Element of Conservation

This step forward is a solution that may be replicated cost-effectively and at scale across the world. Not just for monitoring and analyzing data; the new technology also, importantly, brings people from these far-flung communities together to collaborate on future plans and in decision-making. It’s empowering community-led conservation for a brighter future for wildlife and safeguarding endangered species for future generations. This game-changing solution for big game conservation is a big step forward for technology, that is, hopefully, several steps ahead of the poachers.