MTN and IBM harness smart collars to save rhinos

Cape Town - Computer company IBM and mobile network MTN have collaborated to create smart collars that they hope will help stop the poaching of rhinos in South Africa. 

This is done by fitting collars containing custom sensors onto prey-animals including zebra, wildebeest, eland and impala, which will transmit data about their behavior. These animals act as "sentinels" or early-warning systems, to inform game guards if poachers are nearby. 

South Africa, home to 70% of the world's remaining rhino population, has been battling an epidemic of rhino poaching since at least 2010. In the seven years since then almost 6 000 rhino have been poached. 

In 2016 alone, 1054 rhino were killed. 

The smart collar's announcement was made at the annual Gartner Symposium ITXPO currently being held in Cape Town.  

Sentinals

In a media release IBM said that the behaviour of the prey animals fitted with the collars would help indicate to researchers whether they, and rhinos, were under threat by poachers. 

The initiative is being rolled out at Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo, and may expand to other reserves in the future. 

"Animals such as zebra will act as sentinels with their response patterns becoming an early warning system to protect the rhinos," said IBM. "The predictive nature of this solution takes away the reliance on game reserve teams to be in the right place at the right time, or to respond to events, such as the distant sound of gunfire; and the teams can take proactive action that keeps rhinos safe."

Research into how prey animals reacted to external threats, meanwhile, was conducted by Wageningen University in the Netherlands. 

 “Welgevonden is one of the best managed game reserves in the world and we need such skills to ensure the success of a project of this nature,” said Prof Herbert Prins of Wageningen University.

Save the animals

Mariana Kruger, General Manager for ICT Solutions at MTN Business, said that initial results of the project were illuminating. 

“We are only scratching the surface of what predictive analytics, cognitive computing and Big Data can teach us about animal behaviour," she said. "However, when it comes to rhino poaching, the aim is to harness this data to radically bring down the number of kills by using sensors on animals in the park to determine danger levels and set teams in motion to save the animals."

Bradley Schroder, Chief Executive Officer of Welgevonden Game Reserve, said on the collar project would help protect endangered species. 

“This project will be a profound breakthrough in the creation of connected wildlife solutions, a wildlife management concept that aims to harness IoT (Internet of Things) technology to better manage and protect wildlife and other assets,” he added. 

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