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, is in an epic battle to save the rhino rhino from poaching since 2010. 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.
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.
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.”
While agents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife lured a smuggler to a storage facility in the Bronx with the promise of $400,000 US worth of illegal rhino horn as part of a sting operation, Sheldon Jordan readied his team to raid the man’s warehouse in B.C.
The smuggling ring’s Richmond headquarters was posing as an antique auction house, where police found piles of illegal ivory, rhino horn and coral. Animal parts were stored next to 50,000 tablets of ecstasy, bags of marijuana and cocaine.
Wildlife trafficking is a global phenomenon. Jordan, director general of Wildlife Enforcement at Environment Canada, says it is much closer to home. He is in charge of rooting it out across the country.
Jordan recovered a laptop during the sting that mapped out an illegal network of suppliers and buyers stretching across borders, proof of Canada’s connection to a global animal-trafficking market that is also tied to guns and drugs.
Black-market prices have skyrocketed to meet growing demand. The result is a surge in trafficking of everything from exotic timber to the scaly pangolin, the world’s most poached animal. Conservative estimates: $91 billion US annually.
“Animals and plants are just another low-risk, high-reward commodity for transnational organized crime” says Kelvin Alie, executive vice-president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Canada has quietly become both a destination and a source country. Turtles, lizards and birds are smuggled here for collectors. Polar-bear hides and narwhal tusks, prized as trophies, and bear gall bladders and wild ginseng, valued for medicinal purposes, are illegally exported.
Beyond the destruction of ecosystems and the devastation of animal populations, it can spark violence and unrest, creating the conditions for poverty, hunger and drought, leading to human casualties, Jordan says.
Alie says governments should focus on criminals and corruption to dismantle the trading networks that breed violent crime.
Using microchips to track animals, enforcement officers follow the supply chain to ensure polar bears are hunted and purchased legally.
Jordan hopes to share this tactic and technology with other nations to help safeguard their animal populations.
Canadians should understand that wildlife trafficking is not confined to faraway jungles.
It is big business for major criminal networks and it is happening right here in Canada.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.
© Copyright Times Colonist
South African move to legalize domestic trade ‘could stimulate poaching’.
Rhino horn will go on sale legally in South Africa in late August, after a court lifted a domestic trade ban in April. Many expect much of the horn to find its way to East Asia, even though South Africa remains committed to a worldwide ban on international trading.
The ruling, by South Africa’s Constitutional Court, has sparked concerns that legalizing the domestic trade will provide trafficking loopholes for horns destined for markets such as China, Laos and Hong Kong, the three main destinations for horns smuggled out of South Africa. Indeed, on Aug. 12, Hong Kong Customs sezied 2.6kg of “suspected rhino horn,” with an estimated market value of 67,000 dollars, from an airline passenger arriving from Johannesburg.
The first legal auction will take place online on Aug. 21-24, with a second scheduled for Sept. 19, after official permits are granted to John Hume, the country’s largest private rhino breeder.
Conservationists opposed to the legalization of the domestic trade attacked the court’s decision to lift an eight-year ban, fearing it would encourage poachers, fuel demand for Asian medical potions using horn, and enrich private breeders such as Hume.
The world’s rhino population has reached a critical low point. There are fewer than 50,000 left in the wild, according to estimates by Save The Rhino, a charity.
Save The Rhino said there is no South African demand for horn, and warned that the planned auctions could attract bidders intending to smuggle horns to Asia. The demand for rhino horn stems mainly from traditional Chinese medicine. Horn, made up of the protein keratin, is believed to cure conditions ranging from headaches to cancer, despite a lack of scientific evidence.
Because of its increasing rarity, rhino horn is also considered a symbol of status and wealth in some parts of East Asia, and is sometimes used to close business deals. These practices have had a devastating effect on the South African rhino, which is threatened with extinction.
Hume owns the world’s biggest private rhino-breeding farm, with more than 1,000 rhinos roaming 8,000 hectares of land — an area almost the size of Manhattan.
Rhino horn regrows at a rate of about 6cm to 12cm a year, and Hume has amassed more than 6 tons, which is kept in secret storage facilities in South Africa.
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Researchers brought them to the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research specifically to help save their close cousin, the northern white rhino.
Only three of those animals are left alive, and none are capable of breeding.
“They’re animals that have been here for millions of years. And we’re on the verge of seeing them disappear. After all of that longevity, we’re the reason they are starting to disappear,” Metzler said.
Poaching snuffed out the wild population of northern white rhinos and age is taking its toll on the survivors in captivity.
“We’re learning about training. We’re learning about techniques for the reproductive work that we need to do with them. We’re learning things to improve their health and well-being through the veterinarian team,” Metzler said.
Rhinos have already transformed since their arrival
An off-exhibit area in the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center gives the six females room to roam and trainers up-close access. Keeper Marco Zeno took full advantage of the area encouraging the largest rhino, Amani, to come close.
“Give me your nose,” Zeno said.
The animal lumbers over to the trainer, enticed by the friendly words and a bucket of food treats.
“It’s remarkable that these animals that were essentially wild when they came in and after just about three months, we’re hand feeding and being really calm around people and have no reason to be afraid,” Zeno said.
Amani is the first of the six females to be inseminated artificially. If it works, researchers are taking a major step toward saving the northern white rhino species.
On this day, Zeno urged Amani to stand still while another keeper simulated a shot. This basic behavior gets the animals ready for the real thing.
Ultrasound gives researchers an unprecedented view
Livia stands in the close-quarter chute of an examination area. A steady diet of snacks from keeper Jill Van Kempen keep the animal calm while researchers gather critical information.
The doctor manipulates the ultrasound wand on the outside of the belly. This wand is encased in plastic piping and it goes inside the animal.
“We have two sets of females based on priorities. She (Livia) is once a week. And this is just to get baseline data. And then our other set of females get looked at, at least twice a week,” Pennington said.
The idea is to regularly check in on the animal’s reproductive organs.
“We look at the ovaries. And we look at the structures on the ovaries. And the structures we’re looking for are the follicles, which is the structure that holds the egg.”
Durrant is, in essence, writing the book on the rhino’s reproductive cycle because this research does not happen anywhere else in the world.
There is hope that what researchers learn will allow for an unprecedented successful artificial insemination with sperm from a southern white rhino.
As the researchers strain to get the information they need, Livia calmly munches on treats. There is no sedation.
20 minutes after the exam started, the procedure is over and the animal heads back to its barn.
The Drakensberg Boys Choir ended their six-week tour of Japan with a stellar performance at Kurashiki Civic Hall.
The choir addressed a global issue while performing their song, ‘The Poachers are Coming’, to support the fight against wild animal poaching everywhere on earth.
The excerpt from their 2017 folklore set ‘Siphume Afrika’ (‘We come from Africa’), is a celebration of our diverse South African wildlife, as well as a plea to end the senseless killing of rhinos for their horns.
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