Digital disruption– technology changes the way we think about rhino conservation
During our 25 years of partnership, we’ve teamed up with Cisco on many solutions that demonstrate the technology trend known as Internet of Things. These projects included connected healthcare; connected cities; and connected sports and recreation. We also share a passion for protecting our wildlife heritage through the transformative power of technology.
With this ambition as a driving force, we recently collaborated on Connected Conservation – a pilot project to safeguard threatened rhino in southern Africa. Our solution is different. We’re using technology to track the movement of people to create a safe haven for these endangered animals.
If rhinos become extinct, Africa will lose one of its greatest wildlife attractions and part of the iconic big five — lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino. This will negatively affect whole ecosystems — soil, insects, birds, vegetation, and more. Environmental damage has a ‘knock-on’ effect, so the impact of the loss on humans will also be keenly felt in areas such as tourism and employment. Sometimes whole communities depend on tourism in and around game reserves.
Solutions focused on curbing rhino poaching have typically been reactive. The animal has already been harmed and the horn poached when the rangers have been alerted of an incursion. In most scenarios the approach has been to locate the animal from the air, darting it with a tranquiliser, and tagging it with microchips. This is extremely stressful and risky for the animal. Another method is removing the animal’s horn, which is both controversial and ineffective, as it may increase the demand for horns. It also takes up to 18 months for a dehorning project to get off the ground. The rhino uses its horn as a defence mechanism, to attract a mate, and so forth, so removing the horn can affect its social behaviour and increase its stress levels.
We believe that organisations from the technology industry have a role to play in society, beyond traditional corporate social responsibility programmes, and can have a meaningful impact. With this project, we’re starting a groundswell of real change in conservation, demonstrating the capacity to protect not only the rhino, but also other endangered animals, in more geographies.