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Leon Kaye headshot

Your World Environment Day Reminder: IoT Can Play a Part in Preserving Wildlife

By Leon Kaye

Honestly, the world’s wildlife is the best steward for preserving the land, but the reality of the 21st century is that we’ve long, long gone past that stage. Nevertheless, this year’s World Environment Day (June 5) is a reminder that we can reimagine and restore our natural spaces. Plus, across the globe, the restoration of such places — which of course includes the protection of wildlife — can help local communities build resilience and secure economies that are both equitable and sustainable.

There are countless tools at disposal to ensure these communities, and the natural habitats and wildlife on which they depend for day-to-day living, can not only survive, but thrive; technology is one of them.

One tech company that has seen its technology deployed for this purpose is California-based Semtech. The company’s technology, LoRa, is an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that can be used for many purposes: smart agriculture, smart homes and a smarter supply chain. According to Semtech, to date the technology is used in over 190 million devices that are connected to more than 150 networks.

Many of us are familiar with smart homes (Alexa!) and smart cities, yet Semtech’s technology adds another term to our lexicon: smart wildlife tracking. The company has been working with the NGO Smart Parks, which uses sensors in order to conserve endangered wildlife and help national and wildlife park managers keep watch over large areas of land. The organization has harnessed IoT technology in parks across Africa and Asia and has begun using this technology for humanitarian purposes, too.

"Given the vast locations and terrain of the National Parks, most lack basic cellular coverage, which poses a challenge for connecting these sensors over such a wide area," Semtech's Alistair Fulton told 3p. "The Smart Parks solution leverages a combination of satellite, LoRa and LoRaWAN [an open standard] technology to track wildlife no matter how far they travel, whether that’s down the road or many miles away."

Smart Parks currently uses Semtech’s IoT services at Mkomazi National Park, the 770-plus square miles of which are home to endangered and threatened animals such as African wild dogs, elands, elephants, zebras and the black rhinoceros. As with other wildlife reserves across Africa, poaching has long been a crisis. For what Semtech says is a small investment that offers seamless long-distance connectivity, the park’s managers are able to track these rare black rhinos. Park staffers have embedded small sensors into the horns of black rhinos, thereby allowing park rangers to monitor these animals’ movements — giving them the knowledge and data they need to help keep these rhinos safe. Sensors have also been installed at various park gates, which can help security efforts in gauging when people are entering and leaving the park.

According to Semtech, since this IoT system launched, incidents of poaching in monitored areas have plummeted to zero. In turn, being able to monitor the movements of these rhinos gives park rangers the ability to learn more about each individual animal’s behavior, also making it easier to protect these animals from poachers.

“Thanks to Smart Parks technology, we have learnt a lot more about the behavior of the individual rhinos," said Tony Fitzjohn, a conservationist who has long been dedicated to restoring Mkomazi National Park. "We now have much more advanced information in real-time on a screen which gives these beleaguered animals a much better chance of survival from outside interference. I have been working in the wildlife world in East Africa for 50 years now and this new technology, had it been available years ago, would have made life so much easier for everyone, including the rhinos."

As one local publication reported last year, in the late 1980s, the park was overrun by poachers and cattle, while its wildlife was almost nonexistent. Thirty years later, the same species that had been almost wiped out are starting to recover. Meanwhile, Semtech says two of its employees are focused on the company's relationship with Smart Parks.

As for other uses for IoT technologies, Semtech has pointed to opportunities in reducing food waste, improved water management, and the boosting of crop yields through smarter watering.

Image credit: David Clode/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye