National Geographic Journalist Employs IoT to Investigate Poaching

The magazine reporter teamed with technologists, African park rangers and former poachers to slip artificial tusks armed with tracking devices into the ivory supply chain.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

In Africa and other parts of the world where the tourism economy is tightly linked with wildlife conservation, anti-poaching efforts are not only hugely dangerous—poachers routinely kill rangers in an attempt to reach their bounties—but also incredibly expensive.

Conservation groups, parks and other organizations that are trying to fight poaching and poachers are turning more and more to technological aids, and many of them are part of the Internet of Things. In South Africa, conservation groups are beginning to test a device designed to stop the poaching of rhinoceroses. It includes a video camera, a GPS satellite collar and a heart-rate monitor. When the monitor indicates that a rhino is under stress on the move, the camera switches on and streams video to rangers, who can then track the animal and look for poachers.

Intel worked with a number of conservation groups to develop a system by which a monitor with a cellular modem and an RFID reader is attached to the ankle of a sedated rhinoceros and an RFID tag is embedded in its horn. The reader triggers an alert over the cellular network if the tag falls out of read range, indicating that poachers have hacked off the animal's horn. Rangers are quickly dispensed to search for the poachers before they can do more harm.

Unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with RFID readers are being used to monitor tagged wildlife. Drones, equipped with heat-seeking cameras and other devices, are also being used to search for poachers of a range of species across a number of countries.

Poaching is not just an environmental crisis, however. It is also a humanitarian one, and must be fought on many fronts. This includes eradicating online marketplaces, which I've reported on here.

I am buoyed to see technology being put to use, not only for rooting out poaching directly, but as a tool for storytelling about the poaching epidemic as well.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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