Tech collaboration gives new hope to Africa's rhinos

From the ground to the sky: Madikwe’s technological approach to rewilding and rhino conservation

White rhinos in Madikwe (C) Madikwe's Future Company

Nestled in the heart of South Africa, Madikwe Game Reserve is embarking on a cutting-edge journey of technological integration to counter rhino poaching and strengthen the ongoing success of its rewilding initiatives.

The tech collaboration between Madikwe Futures, Actility, Cisco, Airbus Foundation and Connected Conservation Foundation has already driven significant achievements. Since 2021, the convergence of on-the-ground tools, and satellite technology has helped Madikwe Futures assist with 16 arrests of suspected rhino poachers and the management and restoration of 750km² of wilderness. This benefit extends beyond the reserve to local communities and helps to ensure stable ecotourism supporting over 1,000 jobs.

In the late 1980s, this region faced degradation due to extensive farming. However, a visionary collaboration between local communities, the private sector and the government birthed a restoration project. This initiative not only revitalised and united the landscape but also brought back threatened species and generated over 1,000 employment opportunities for the local communities, serving as a catalyst for economic development where wildlife thrives.

Madikwe is home is the white rhino (C) Madikwe Futures Company

The rhino poaching threat

While Madikwe’s diversity of wildlife is second to none, a shadow looms large—rhino poaching threatens to erase decades of hard work. In just the first six months of 2023 alone, 231 rhinos were lost to poaching in South Africa. With only 6,487 black rhinos left in the world, the urgency to protect Madikwe's rhinos cannot be overstated.

Installation of Lora network (C) Madikwe Futures Company

Converging technology solutions

Madikwe Futures Company (MFC) has embarked on an innovative journey, collaborating with the Connected Conservation Foundation (CCF), Cisco, Airbus Foundation and Actility to integrate cutting-edge technologies that form a formidable shield against poachers and help manage the landscape.

From LoRaWAN networks to 30 cm resolution satellite imagery, Madikwe Game Reserve is now equipped with a holistic system that unifies ground-level measures with sky-based monitoring technologies.

​“Our ongoing work with CCF and other partners to deliver networking equipment across Madikwe Game Reserve is part of Cisco’s Partnering for Purpose initiative,” said Tony Meredith, Senior Director, Global Strategic Partner Sales at Cisco. “The combination of powerful partnerships and innovative technologies supports a holistic approach to conservation, helping to create safe havens for our wildlife and secure jobs for local communities.”

Giraffes at watering hole (C) Connected Conservation Foundation

Real-time surveillance and counterstrategies

The watchful eye of satellite imagery from above combined with thermal cameras along the reserve's perimeter serve as vigilant guardians that operate around the clock to detect and deter poachers.

Koos Potgieter, Managing Director at Madikwe Futures Company, discusses the effectiveness of the thermal cameras, stating, "They work. Our cameras allow us to detect poachers 24/7."

The cameras offer real-time surveillance and provide crucial insights into poaching behaviours, enabling the implementation of more effective counterstrategies.

This unique and dynamic biome allows more species to co-exist in one area (C) Connected Conservation Foundation

Satellite insight: Unraveling the landscape

Madikwe Game Reserve strengthens its surveillance against poaching with the introduction of sophisticated Pléiades Neo satellite imagery. This technology, donated by the Airbus Foundation, provides a landscape-scale perspective by enabling the team to analyse poacher entry and exit routes.

Koos adds, “Poachers are professionals who are part of organised crime syndicates. They’re experienced. It’s extremely valuable to monitor their behaviour closely.”

The imagery not only enhances anti-poaching resource deployment but also contributes to the reserve's overall rewilding and restoration plans, guiding decisions on environmental factors such as sickle bush removal and grassland enhancement for key species like lions, wild dogs, hyenas and rhinos.

"The Airbus Foundation has donated Pléiades Neo satellite imagery to contribute to Madikwe Game Reserve's anti-poaching resources. By analysing poacher routes and supporting overall management plans, this technology plays a crucial role in the conservation efforts of this remarkable living landscape,” says Rachel Schroeder, Managing Director of Airbus Foundation.

Madikwe canine and ranger trackers (C) Madikwe Futures Company

LoRaWAN Network: A technological shield

Madikwe Game Reserve is also implementing a new LoRaWAN network, supported by Cisco, Actility and CCF, covering vast areas with advanced sensing devices ranging from fence sensors and vehicle trackers to wildlife, canine and ranger trackers. This network enhances surveillance, identifies potential poaching threats and optimises patrol routes through data analysis, offering Madikwe a data-driven approach to conservation.

"By harnessing cutting-edge IoT technology, including the transformative power of LoRaWAN and our ThingPark connectivity platform, we commit to safeguarding the world's wildlife. These groundbreaking tools allow us to bridge the gap between progress and conservation effectively, ensuring a harmonious coexistence between humanity and our precious wildlife. Join us in this noble endeavor, leveraging innovation for a synergistic and sustainable future," says Nicolas Jordan, COO at Actility.

Sophie Maxwell, Executive Director of CCF, adds insight into the future of LoRa devices, "LoRa devices will keep on developing - from new animal trackers to alarms. The Connected Conservation project enables Madikwe to easily plug in and utilise any new LoRa devices needed to safeguard their rangers and wildlife."

Madikwe operations room with rangers (C) Connected Conservation Foundation

Securing the right solutions for impact

The powerful alliance forged among Madikwe Futures, Actility, Cisco, Airbus Foundation and CCF has translated into noteworthy achievements. Since the implementation of technology solutions in 2021, a total of 16 arrests have been made, targeting suspected rhino poachers both within and beyond the reserve.

The Madikwe Game Reserve has experienced a reduction in rhino poaching incidents, accompanied by enhanced levels of landscape and community security. An especially commendable achievement is the protection of previously identified hotspots that poachers used for entry and exit into the reserve.

"At Connected Conservation, we are proud to unite technology partners in supporting the hard work and tireless devotion of Madikwe Futures Company,” concludes Doc Watson, Chairman of CCF.

“This collective effort extends beyond the reserve, fostering a more secure and tranquil environment for residents and significantly contributing to the overall well-being and livelihoods of local people reliant on ecotourism jobs.”