Connected Conservation

Paula LaBrot

Technology is saving endangered rhinos and elephants in Africa. I am talking about a significant reduction of poaching through new programs like Connected Conservation.


Rhino horn is in demand in Asia, especially in China and Vietnam. Some, erroneously believe it has medicinal value, capable of anything from curing cancer to working as an aphrodisiac. Others use it as a New Age club drug, mixed with water or alcohol. In reality, rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material as hair and fingernails, and there is no evidence it has any effect, medicinal or otherwise. In what can only be defined as obscene carnage, elephant tusks are carved into meaningless trinkets. Much education is needed, possibly through e-blasts in global social media.


Up until recently, catching poachers has been a difficult, underfunded operation. Threatened species inhabit remote, vast, difficult-to-patrol-and-access habitats. Modern technology has brought a new kind of aid to the fight.

Dimension Data is a South African company that provides information technology. One of their major service sectors is security. Cisco System, Inc., is an American-based global tech conglomerate that specializes in telecommunications technology.

In 2015, Dimension Data and Cisco launched a new program called Connected Conservation in a private reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The goal was to assist in the battle to protect rhinos in the reserve from the unrestrained poaching causing their numbers to plummet. Poachers were decimating the population. Bodies were left to rot. Wildlife was becoming history.

Senior vice president of Cisco, Karen Walker, wrote, “Many organizations were committed to protecting animals through various reactive initiatives, such as dehorning, or inserting sensors in the horn and subcutaneously. However, the problem with reactive initiatives is that by the time the reserve rangers reach the animal, it has been killed, and the rhino horn or elephant tusks have been hacked off. Every year more than 1,000 rhinos are poached in South Africa, which equates to three rhinos poached every day. If this number continues, black rhinos face extinction by the year 2025.”


Bruce Watson is the group executive of the alliance between Cisco and Dimension Data to save endangered rhinos. He calls himself a dreamer and believes dreams can come true. (My kind of guy.) His objective is to get to the poachers before they can get to the animals. In using a combination of the Cisco technology of digital infrastructure, hybrid cloud, digital workplace, and cybersecurity, the Connected Conservation pilot project was able to overcome many security limitations faced by game reserves in these remote locations.

Sensors on thermal cameras placed all along the reserve’s perimeters and within the reserve monitor can pinpoint any incursion onto the reserve 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Walker reports that in two years, the poaching within that reserve dropped 96 percent.

“We’re replicating Connected Conservation in other reserves to not only protect the rhino, but also conserve other endangered species globally…”


Dimension Data and Cisco have announced that this year, 2018, the Connected Conservation project will be expanded into other regions. Watson says, “We’re replicating Connected Conservation in other reserves to not only protect the rhino, but also conserve other endangered species globally, such as elephants, lions, pangolin, tigers in India and Asia, and even sea rays, sharks, and whales in the ocean.”


Drones are another high-tech tool in the battle against poaching. In Africa, the organization Air Shepherd sponsored by the Lindbergh Foundation, flies drones equipped with sensors to monitor wildlife movement and locate poachers. Using data analytics to predict where the wildlife will be, the drones patrol the herds, sending alerts to pre-deployed rangers. The drones are electric—silent and invisible and can fly at night, which is when most poachers operate.

Poachers are now putting cyanide into watering holes, poisoning large groups of rhinos or elephants at a time, as well as every other animal that drinks from the hole. Then the poachers come in to cut tusks and horns. Drones help track poachers before they get to the holes, recording their activities and pinpointing their locations.


According to the New York Times, organized crime supported by corrupt officials, is responsible for most of the poaching. They use tech, too. Night vision goggles, AK-47s, helicopters, and their own drones. Fueled by global consumer demand, poaching profits are astronomical. It is estimated that illegal trade of tusks and horns is a $70 billion-a-year industry.


Today, there are many pilot programs all over the world utilizing technology to conserve wildlife. Even Artificial Intelligence is in the mix. The Microsoft News Center reports, “Through machine learning, apps can now use data patterns of documented poaching incidents…to (actually) predict where the next incident is likely to occur while mapping out the best patrol routes for rangers.”

Tech is going wild for wildlife preservation, a value this Topanga community treasures.

-Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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