Smart toys that can help save the planet

Glued to the screen, you feel you are speeding along just a few feet from a cantering rhino. Dust billows as each hoof pounds the earth and all you can hear is the thunder of feet and the sound of your own breath raging in your ears. 

This is the opening sequence of IBM’s recent TV advert showing how it is supporting rhino conservation in Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa. In a novel approach, park wardens are placing sensor-embedded collars on herbivores such as impala, zebra and antelope, species that spook easily and run when poachers are in the vicinity. Their movements set off the sensors, connected via the IBM Cloud, alerting rangers to the threat. 

As poaching becomes more militarised, the only solution is to use technology that poachers do not have. The collars transmit signals via a LoRa network – a long-range, low-power closed wireless platform that uses multiple frequencies and encrypted data so it’s difficult to hack. This in turn is linked to an IoT (Internet of Things) platform hosted by IBM. For the first time, wardens can be proactive rather than reactive – just one example of how smart technology, from drones and camera traps to “Elephant Shields” and GPS, is transforming not just conservation but the wildlife experience for tourists. 

Last year, the Singita Grumeti Fund launched “Safaris with a Purpose” in Tanzania. The custodian of 350,000 acres in the western corridor of Serengeti National Park, Singita obtained permission from the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute to fit 30 elephants with GPS satellite collars to monitor those individuals that habitually raid crops, thus minimising human-wildlife conflicts. 

Stephen Cunliffe, executive director of the Grumeti Fund, says: “These research projects are vital but costly, and we need revenue to be able to undertake such initiatives.” So for the first time they have combined luxury accommodation with a “participation” safari, where guests paying high-end fees take part in the collaring operation and go behind the scenes, visiting the park’s hi-tech anti-poaching headquarters, its canine unit and various community projects. 

“If you marry hospitality and conservation, one can fund the other,” says Erin Summe of specialist tour operator Thandeka Travel. 

Singita Grumeti is also using TrailGuard – a series of motion-sensitive cameras, concealed along known poacher trails, which can dial into an alert system to activate response teams. 

In other collaborations, Microsoft and World Wildlife Fund are supporting PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security), an algorithm programme trialled in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park that collates information about patrol routes and poaching. From these it predicts where poachers will strike next and suggests a strategy for the park rangers, who, with limited staff, struggle to carry out law enforcement across the vast reserves. 

One technology helping to shrink those search areas is the drone, that love-it-or-loathe-it aerial vehicle that has generated £1.5 billion in sales since its introduction to the civilian market in 2013. Sightings of wildlife are unreliable, and drones improve the odds by opening up a larger search area.

Read the full article here: The Telegraph