Rwanda’s Akagera National Park Uses a Smart Park System to Keep Poachers at Bay

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Poaching is a serious problem in African parks. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Elephant population in Africa has dropped from 5 million in the 1900s to about 415,000 in 2017.  WWF also notes that black and white Rhinos are also face great danger from poachers.

The Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) reported that in 2013, 59 rhinos and 302 elephants were lost to poachers. In the same reports, KWS arrested 1,519 suspected poachers and recovered 45 kg of rhino horn, 10,106 kg of bushmeat and 23,145 kg of ivory.

Various measures have been put in place to fight against poaching, including the use of GPS trackers on the animals. One Park in Rwanda, Akagera National Park, has however sought the help of Dutch conservation organizations, ShadowView and Internet of Life to come up with a smart park system that will tighten the guard against poachers.

The Smart Park system uses a low-bandwidth, low-power, Long Range Wide-Area Network (LoRaWAN) to monitor animals, park visitors, employees and equipment in real-time.

LoRaWAN technology has in the past been used in smart cities such as Amsterdam in the development of IOT (Internet of Things). The developers of the technology claim that LoRaWAN is safer than satellite-based and radio frequency tracking as LoRaWAN sends signals across multiple frequencies within an encrypted, closed network.

The network is set up within the boundaries of the park and solar-powered sensors – that are constantly sending signals to gateways placed at high-elevation points around the park – are placed at strategic points within the park. These signals are relayed to the control room where park officials can access all the information being collected through a web app.

A similar system was also installed in Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania in April 2016. The developers of the system also noted that they plan to incorporate live video feeds in the network at Akagera National Park.

Faye Cuevas, chief of staff of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and leader of anti-poaching program in Kenya said that, “the smart park system looks very sophisticated and can have an important role in improving wildlife security…but the value of the system depends on how its data is analyzed…”

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