Volunteering Africa is tracking rhinos to win the anti-poaching fight

Press Release –  Paris, France – 13th April, 2022

Volunteering Africa, a non-profit organization founded in South Africa in 2019, which works for the preservation of wildlife, with a big focus on rhino protection in this and other African countries, has teamed up with Abeeway and Actility to develop a system which will allow us to constantly monitor rhinos’ localization in order to efficiently protect them against poachers.

From IoT project to reality in the field

Around 7.100 rhinos have been slaughtered in the past 10 years by poachers who seek their tusks for resale on the illegal market. This issue has endangered the rhinoceros’ species, leaving only around 27.000 in the whole world, and especially putting the Black Rhino species in great danger of extinction.

To help this cause, Lukas Schefer, ex HF Electronics NDS Project Manager, decided to volunteer in 2015 in Southern Africa to help with the protection of wildlife. Lukas trained to become a South Africa Field Guide, and having been working as a Ranger since 2019, decided to start Volunteering Africa as a transformation of his hobby into a real organization and effectively help wildlife, especially rhinos, by offering secure parks protected from poachers.

Volunteering Africa has since then worked on finding volunteers and systems to protect endangered wildlife in African parks, offering interested people from German speaking countries ways to get started with volunteering work in Africa. Since the start of this project, Volunteering Africa has gone a step further and now consistently works on finding new systems which will allow to secure the over 25.000 hectares where they operate.

During the past years, Luke has used his technical background and electronic understanding, as well as the knowledge of the needs of the park, to set up a proof of concept for the protection of wild animals using radio technology.

For a long time, the organization used antennas and sound-based systems to localize the rhinos and make sure they didn’t step into dangerous areas where poachers would find it easy to act, but this system wasn’t as effective as desired and only localized animals when these were close, after looking for them for several hours

explains Lukas Schefer, Founder of Volunteering Africa.

Because of this, the organization searched for a faster and more accurate system to remotely localize rhinos, coming across Abeeway, which had already undergone similar animal tracking use cases, through Shop of Things, a Swiss IoT system integrator and distributing company, with an extensive history in implementing tracking projects  using Abeeway devices.

Finding the perfect match in IoT tracking technology

Volunteering Africa deployed several LoRaWAN gateways throughout the park where they operate and created a leg bracelet for rhinos which included Abeeway’s Compact Tracker. This system allows the rangers to localize each animal in real-time and be prepared much faster before poachers arrive, also allowing them to track ranger’s cars and routes, helping prevent infiltered poachers.

The Compact Tracker is Abeeway’s most solid device, especially designed to last in heavy-duty operations, while being light weighted and extremely accurate. This device is a highly versatile multi-mode tracker which includes embedded sensors combining GPS, Low-power GPS, Wi-Fi Sniffers, BLE, and LoRa TDoA geolocation technology, supporting outdoor and indoor geolocation and long battery autonomy.

Its compact and robust casing has been designed to resist harsh surroundings while allowing seamless performance for animal or asset tracking. This tracker allows real-time tracking, status monitoring, activity monitoring based on motion for usage optimization, geofencing applications, like receiving zone alerts when leaving or entering specific areas, antitheft applications, like notifications and location triggers when the device is moving, and fixed frequency updates which can be set on demand.

Abeeway device have an attractive price for such a long-lasting device. Configuration is multipurpose and practical, allowing changing heartbeat, standby mode, on-demand location… and most importantly, all configurations can be updated remotely using LoRaWAN, so there is no need to be close to the animal and to use BLE for example.

Confirms Lukas Schefer, Founder of Volunteering Africa.

For this specific use case, the LoRaWAN connected trackers get attached on collars which are then buckled onto rhino’s legs. This creates a need for trackers to be as robust as possible, as they are placed on a highly bumped area of their body. This placement, being so close to the ground, also generates another issue, connectivity. Service needs to be clear to make coverage possible and reaching such a low and covered area of the animal is a challenge.

Battery life is another important issue in this project. Catching the rhinos to put the tracker on them is one of the hardest and most costly parts of the task. Therefore, once on, the devices and their batteries must last for as long as possible to help delay the procedure of putting the trackers back on each animal. However, unlike other trackers, the Compact Tracker benefits from the extremely low-power advantage of LoRaWAN connectivity, which gives its battery a higher longevity, offering up to 7 years of battery-life, not needing a SIM card or costly subscriptions.

Why is LoRaWAN the way to go?

All the aforementioned project’s characteristics make LoRaWAN® come out to be the only type of connectivity which can offer service in such hazardous specifications. The signal must be strong, covering huge areas.  This widely used wireless protocol allows battery-powered sensors to communicate with IoT applications via a long-range, ultra-low data rate connection, resulting in longer battery life.

Actility provides LoRaWAN® IoT management through ThingPark Enterprise, a platform that helps customers build network infrastructure by managing LoRaWAN® gateways, adding sensors, monitoring network operations, and controlling the flow of data to application servers, enabling the deployment of large-scale IoT projects in record time. ThingPark Enterprise has been designed to easily be grown with the needs of the deploying organization, which makes project’s scaling up easy, and in this case allows to extend the project from rhinos tracking to other endangered species in the program’s protection radar.

Volonteering Africa is aiming at deploying up to a dozen LoRaWAN gateways throughout the huge park territory in order to have highly dense coverage, working in all spots.

Additionnaly, as part of the integrated solution, Akenza’s IoT platform is used in this project as perfect intermediate between the devices data and ThingPark Enterprise network management. The data ends up on EarthRanger application, which is a software solution that aids protected area managers, ecologists, and wildlife biologists in making more informed operational decisions for wildlife conservation.

More to come…

This proof of concept is now a success and has proven to be bringing the number of poached rhino’s down, making it easier to protect them and catch poachers before they act.

“Volunteering Africa continues working on ways to improve wildlife’s protection and will continue expanding this system throughout African parks, also taking the project to another level in the future by using this system to protect not only rhinos, but all other endangered animals”

says Lukas Schefer, Founder of Volunteering Africa.

Other future projects are also taking place in order to benefit from the same LoRaWAN network infrastructure: remote monitoring of electric fences’ current instead of manual checks, monitoring of water pumps in the park, or gate opening and closing monitoring with alarm set off in the case of irregular or unauthorized entry.

“Illegal wildlife trade is an urgent global issue. The fight against rhino poaching has been needing to step up a gear for a long time, and it is now possible to reverse the situation thanks to IoT. We are delighted to be able to contribute and be a part of this transformation by helping Volunteering Africa to harness and scale up innovative technology for the cause, and even extending its use to new groundbreaking applications”

says Olivier Hersent, CEO at Actility.

Photo of Olivier Hersent

All these amazing projects are privately sponsored. If you wish to contribute with more resources or volunteering work do not hesitate to reach out to Volonteering Africa on their website. All help will contribute to the success of this fight for wildlife protection and will be greatly appreciated!

More wildlife is to be tracked soon. Stay tuned!

About Volunteering Africa 

Volunteering Africa is a non-profit organization created in 2019 by Lukas Schefer in order to find German speaking volunteers to participate in the security of wild animals in South African parks. The organization has now scaled up and seeks to protect animals through the power of technology, specifically IoT, and constantly works to secure as much land as possible for animals protecting them from poachers.

About Actility

Actility is a world leader in Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN) industrial-grade connectivity solutions for the Internet of Things. Actility provides its ThingPark™ platform and network technology to deploy, operate and maintain public and private wireless IoT networks within a unified, scalable and versatile network infrastructure. The vast majority of nationwide LoRaWAN® network service providers (over 50) and hundreds of companies trust ThingPark™ all over the world. Through its subsidiary Abeeway, Actility also providespatented ultra-low power tracking solutions. ThingPark Market offers the largest selection of interoperable IoT gateways, devices and applications to simplify and accelerate deployment of use cases.  

Contact us here: https://www.actility.com/contact


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About Abeeway: 

Abeeway is the market leader in low-power indoor & outdoor fused geolocation and a provider of disruptive IoT tracking solutions worldwide. Abeeway offers the most energy-efficient, reliable and flexible geolocation solutions using unique tracking devices and a smart Multi-technology location system optimized for long-range and low-power-consumption leveraging LoRaWAN™ connectivity. Abeeway devices are available on ThingPark Market .  Abeeway is a member of the LoRa Alliance™

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