Cognitive Computing

Bringing Cognitive to Bear in the Fight Against Poaching in South Africa

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I’ve always wanted to be a large-animal vet. As a child, I was caretaker to Russell, the Dutch rabbit, two guinea pigs named peanut butter and jelly, more than 100 rats, mice and more blue-belly lizards than my long-suffering, but supportive mother could count. I’ve always felt a connection to animals and though my path lead to a career in technology, it is a great moment when those two worlds can collide.

Game conservationists are battling to protect the dwindling number of rhinos in Africa.

This week we announced that MTN, a leading South-Africa based multinational mobile telecommunications provider, and the Netherlands Research Institute (NRI) are harnessing the power of IBM Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive analytics technologies to address and reduce threats to endangered species at the Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa.

South Africa is home to about 20,000 rhinos, more than 70 percent of the world’s total population. From 2007-2014 the country experienced an exponential rise in rhino poaching – a growth of over 9,000% rising to a record 1,215 animals from 13, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Wild rhinos are regularly killed for their horns, which are often used in traditional Asian medicine.

In 2016, however, figures show a dip in poaching for the second year in a row, indicating that increased protection efforts are paying off. Although it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching levels fall, the losses are still extremely high. Law enforcement plays a crucial role in deterring poachers, however a variety of strategies are still needed to combat the scourge, including rigorous anti-poaching and monitoring patrols, community conservation and environmental education schemes, translocations, educational projects to reduce demand, etc.

By using IBM’s Internet of Things (IoT) platform and predictive analytics, NRI can now track the movement patterns of smaller neighboring animals as they respond to the presence of human intruders anywhere in the reserve, a 135 sq. mile expanse of African bush. IBM’s technologies monitor and collect information related to the animals’ location, movement, direction and average speed of travel – along with other data – over a wide range. This data is then used to develop analytic models and understand patterns, specifically helping to predict when they are in possible danger, including the threat of poachers moving through the area.

Smaller animals that comingle with the rhinos, such as zebra, wildebeest and antelope, which are easier to tag, are fitted with collars containing sensors that transmit data to IBM’s IoT platform through the long-range signal & control platform (LoRa) and a 3G network. IBM and NRI will work together to create and test algorithms for behavioral analysis which will serve as an early warning system to detect dangerous situations and enable the deployment of security personnel before an attack takes place – something that existing technologies cannot do.

There is no magic solution to the poaching crisis. It will take a mix of the best tools we have, and some new ones we can create. Having well-trained and equipped rangers is an important start. So too is a secure habitat and good rhino monitoring, so that we know exactly where the rhinos are and how they are faring. Making sure that people living nearby see and feel the benefits of conservation is another critical factor in preventing people from turning to poaching or encroaching on rhino habitats. Education is important – both in countries where rhinos live but also in Asia, where consumer demand for rhino horn is highest.

My career may have led somewhere other than life as a vet, but being part of the team that can have a positive influence by protecting this animal population has been an aspiration fulfilled.

Kim Gravell

I too wanted to be a vet when I was younger 🙂 but chose a career in IT. Many years later it’s great to see how IBM technology is being put to use to help save these beautiful animals. It’s not often I share IBM stories on Facebook but I’m posting this one!
Congratulations and thank you to all involved in the project.

C. Rogers

Reports such as this, highlighting the application of technology, did more than brighten my day. It reinforced the truth that what we do every day in our labs, at our desks, and in trucks or at the top of a tower is critical to the world around us.


Mike Becker

I really like that we take care in this way 🙂

Great sample how technology can be applied to do real benefit for us and our planet.

Birgit Wiesinger

A great example on how we can contribute saving our nature & environment.

Nicole Rozanski

This is wonderful and refreshing to see how our IBM technology is adapted to work for such a world cause. To see the technology deployed to work with the animals in their existing environment without disrupting their natural habitat and still be able to create a system that protects them from human poachers is an amazing application of the technology. Thank you for supporting this project. It speaks volumes of what IBMers stand for.

Jennie Daley

I think this is absolutely fabulous. What a shame we need to do this and can’t win by changing peoples minds about the need to preserve our wildlife & environment for all of us.
I grew up in Zambia always wanted to work with wildlife and also had hundreds of pets, but went into IT and left Africa in my 20’s. Over the years I have had doubts about my career choice & how what I do does nothing to benefit wildlife, so seeing this as made me think that maybe my time in mainframes has enabled others to lead the way and make such fabulous use of technology.
Fantastic job.

Mauro Bicocco

+1 for IBM and +1 for saving Rhinos. Now all we need is more game reserves in Africa to adopt this new technology in preserving all animals.

Jill Alibrandi

This is awesome! We need to do the same for World Elephant, Lion, Tiger Day too!

michael nkomo

great Job!

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