Can ‘connected’ conservation save the rhino?

Published 9:46 AM EDT, Thu August 25, 2016
rhino poaching price horn marketplace africa spc_00033228.jpg
rhino poaching price horn marketplace africa spc_00033228.jpg
Now playing
05:28
Can data save Africa's rhinos from the guns of poachers? (2016)
Marketplace Africa - Angola Oil_00013425.jpg
Marketplace Africa - Angola Oil_00013425.jpg
Now playing
04:44
How Angola's economy can grow beyond oil
Marketplace Africa - Liberia Rice - A_00014410.jpg
Marketplace Africa - Liberia Rice - A_00014410.jpg
Now playing
04:47
Liberia boosts its rice production
marketplace africa thrive b_00045909.jpg
marketplace africa thrive b_00045909.jpg
Now playing
05:34
Arianna Huffington's new project: THRIVE
marketplace africa twitter a_00040916.jpg
marketplace africa twitter a_00040916.jpg
Now playing
05:00
How South Africans use social media
marketplace africa uganda sugar a_00033229.jpg
marketplace africa uganda sugar a_00033229.jpg
Now playing
06:55
Why Uganda's sugar prices are rising
marketplace africa neal froneman b_00003526.jpg
marketplace africa neal froneman b_00003526.jpg
Now playing
04:10
How Neal Froneman mines for gold in Africa
marketplace africa living in lagos a_00003827.jpg
marketplace africa living in lagos a_00003827.jpg
Now playing
06:38
Living in Lagos
marketplace africa south africa uber_00025022.jpg
marketplace africa south africa uber_00025022.jpg
Now playing
05:33
Uber takes on South Africa
marketplace africa 2016 in review_00022403.jpg
marketplace africa 2016 in review_00022403.jpg
Now playing
07:11
Marketplace Africa: 2016 in review
marketplace africa manny chirico interview b_00005915.jpg
marketplace africa manny chirico interview b_00005915.jpg
Now playing
05:09
Manny Chirico: the man behind Calvin Klein
marketplace africa swaziland textile industry a_00044119.jpg
marketplace africa swaziland textile industry a_00044119.jpg
Now playing
05:55
Reinventing the Swaziland textile industry
marketplace africa car industry coscharis b_00005821.jpg
marketplace africa car industry coscharis b_00005821.jpg
Now playing
05:29
Cosmas Maduka left school age 6, now he's a CEO
marketplace africa car industry a_00041808.jpg
marketplace africa car industry a_00041808.jpg
Now playing
05:26
How big is Africa's car industry?
marketplace africa nollywood a _00015111.jpg
marketplace africa nollywood a _00015111.jpg
Now playing
05:53
Nollywood goes global
marketplace africa nollywood b_00004719.jpg
marketplace africa nollywood b_00004719.jpg
Now playing
05:04
The man bringing Hollywood to Nollywood
spc marketplace africa nigeria agriculture_00025418.jpg
spc marketplace africa nigeria agriculture_00025418.jpg
Now playing
03:38
Nigerian agriculture on the rise
spc marketplace africa sim tshabalala_00033215.jpg
spc marketplace africa sim tshabalala_00033215.jpg
Now playing
04:47
Banking boss: 'It's the African century'
spc marketplace africa energy mauritius_00021420.jpg
spc marketplace africa energy mauritius_00021420.jpg
Now playing
05:00
Sweet energy in Mauritius
spc marketplace africa saleem beebeejaun_00001411.jpg
spc marketplace africa saleem beebeejaun_00001411.jpg
Now playing
04:12
Mauritius to become a financial services hub?
spc marketplace africa royal air maroc_00024211.jpg
spc marketplace africa royal air maroc_00024211.jpg
Now playing
04:13
Royal Air Maroc shifts strategy to African routes
spc marketplace africa matis aerospace b_00012116.jpg
spc marketplace africa matis aerospace b_00012116.jpg
Now playing
03:56
Morocco's wired into the aerospace industry
spc marketplace africa fresh produce mauritius_00024204.jpg
spc marketplace africa fresh produce mauritius_00024204.jpg
Now playing
04:31
Fresh produce in Mauritius
spc marketplace africa john veihmeyer kpmg_00001601.jpg
spc marketplace africa john veihmeyer kpmg_00001601.jpg
Now playing
04:57
KPMG boss bullish on business prospects in Africa
A picture taken on October 19, 2014 shows the kasba of the southern village of Ait-Ben-Haddou near Ouarzazate. Ait-Ben-Haddou is an ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan construction techniques as well as a miniature of the architectural typology of southern Morocco. AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA (Photo credit should read FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on October 19, 2014 shows the kasba of the southern village of Ait-Ben-Haddou near Ouarzazate. Ait-Ben-Haddou is an ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan construction techniques as well as a miniature of the architectural typology of southern Morocco. AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA (Photo credit should read FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
05:26
Inside Morocco's Hollywood
spc marketplace africa badis derradji_00020104.jpg
spc marketplace africa badis derradji_00020104.jpg
Now playing
03:48
Solar power in the desert
Now playing
06:40
Township tourism in South Africa
spc marketplace africa jeffrey immelt_00030825.jpg
spc marketplace africa jeffrey immelt_00030825.jpg
Now playing
03:11
GE boss: African growth is 'extremely fast'
spc marketplace africa san sebastian coastal reserve_00014008.jpg
spc marketplace africa san sebastian coastal reserve_00014008.jpg
Now playing
05:51
A property hotspot in Mozambique
Now playing
03:48
Mobile plays key role for Western Union
A typical Dutch bicycle
A typical Dutch bicycle
PHOTO: Barry Neild/CNN
Now playing
05:29
Johannesburg's new messaging service
spc marketplace africa b_00000611.jpg
spc marketplace africa b_00000611.jpg
Now playing
04:14
What are the challenges for aerospace in Africa?
spc marketplace africa uganda sugar cane farming_00000111.jpg
spc marketplace africa uganda sugar cane farming_00000111.jpg
Now playing
05:51
Sugar cane farmers face challenges
spc marketplace africa banking_00041118.jpg
spc marketplace africa banking_00041118.jpg
Now playing
04:24
The challenges and opportunities of banking in Africa
spc marketplace africa sikander lalani_00002303.jpg
spc marketplace africa sikander lalani_00002303.jpg
Now playing
03:48
Steel magnate on business in East Africa
spc marketplace africa oke okaro_00040518.jpg
spc marketplace africa oke okaro_00040518.jpg
Now playing
04:24
Cellphones: Shaping Africa
spc marketplace africa ghana local brands_00013619.jpg
spc marketplace africa ghana local brands_00013619.jpg
Now playing
05:10
Getting Africans to buy local
spc marketplace africa elly karuhanga_00022528.jpg
spc marketplace africa elly karuhanga_00022528.jpg
Now playing
02:26
'Pearl of Africa' boasts minerals
spc marketplace africa nile breweries_00064507.jpg
spc marketplace africa nile breweries_00064507.jpg
Now playing
07:07
This beer is sourced from Lake Victoria
spc marketplace africa ghana agriculture_00052526.jpg
spc marketplace africa ghana agriculture_00052526.jpg
Now playing
06:19
Tricky business of farming
spc marketplace africa abu sakara_00011628.jpg
spc marketplace africa abu sakara_00011628.jpg
Now playing
03:24
Ghana's agricultural economy
spc marketplace africa meat co_00004523.jpg
spc marketplace africa meat co_00004523.jpg
Now playing
04:05
S. African business takes off in UAE
spc marketplace africa njonjo coca cola_00040428.jpg
spc marketplace africa njonjo coca cola_00040428.jpg
Now playing
04:14
Coca-Cola boasts long history in Africa
spc marketplace africa cape brandy a_00015410.jpg
spc marketplace africa cape brandy a_00015410.jpg
Now playing
05:39
Toasting South Africa's spirit business
spc marketplace africa cape whisky b_00010930.jpg
spc marketplace africa cape whisky b_00010930.jpg
Now playing
03:58
The taste of South Africa whiskey
spc marketplace africa entrepreneurs liberia_00020006.jpg
spc marketplace africa entrepreneurs liberia_00020006.jpg
Now playing
05:00
Can Liberia's tourism industry recover?
spc marketplace africa issa diabate_00041020.jpg
spc marketplace africa issa diabate_00041020.jpg
Now playing
04:56
Creating uniquely African architecture
spc marketplace africa nairobi real estate_00005414.jpg
spc marketplace africa nairobi real estate_00005414.jpg
Now playing
04:39
Nairobi's bustling property market
spc marketplace africa murasiranwa zimbabwe tourism_00001309.jpg
spc marketplace africa murasiranwa zimbabwe tourism_00001309.jpg
Now playing
02:57
Tourism rep: Why Zimbabwe stands out
spc marketplace africa zimbabwe tourimsm_00002923.jpg
spc marketplace africa zimbabwe tourimsm_00002923.jpg
Now playing
06:27
Zimbabwe steps up tourism efforts
spc marketplace africa zimbabwe luxury_00003327.jpg
spc marketplace africa zimbabwe luxury_00003327.jpg
Now playing
03:41
Crocodile farming in Zambia
spc marketplace africa zimbabwe luxury_00002610.jpg
spc marketplace africa zimbabwe luxury_00002610.jpg
Now playing
06:15
Africa: The new frontier of luxury?
spc marketplace africa symbion power_00010114.jpg
spc marketplace africa symbion power_00010114.jpg
Now playing
04:57
CEO: Africa needs electricity revolution
spc marketplace africa air seychelles_00000411.jpg
spc marketplace africa air seychelles_00000411.jpg
Now playing
04:25
Air Seychelles soars to new heights
spc marketplace africa francis grogan_00022004.jpg
spc marketplace africa francis grogan_00022004.jpg
Now playing
04:04
Zambeef boss on expansion
spc marketplace africa zambeef_00033121.jpg
spc marketplace africa zambeef_00033121.jpg
Now playing
05:16
Zambian agriculture on the rise
spc marketplace africa cape town design_00004522.jpg
spc marketplace africa cape town design_00004522.jpg
Now playing
04:28
Cape Town invests in design

Story highlights

Rhino poaching spiraling out of control

Sensors, drones, and thermal imaging could turn the tide

(CNN) —  

Rhino poaching has reached “crisis point,” and it is driving the species ever closer to extinction, according to conservationists.

From a population of 500,000 in the early 20th century, just 29,000 rhinos remain in the wild today.

The vast majority are located in South Africa, which lost a record 1,215 animals to poachers in 2014, a sharp increase from 668 in 2012.

With well-resourced criminal syndicates determined to harvest the rhinos for their horns, that fetch more than gold, diamonds or cocaine on the black market, conservationists are under pressure to find solutions before the charismatic creatures disappear forever.

Tech solution

On a private reservation at Kruger National Park, home to most of South Africa’s rhinos, rangers are putting their faith in advanced technology to turn the tide.

The 62,000-hectare reserve is surrounded by electrified fences equipped with Wi-Fi enabled sensors that feed information to a control room. The site is covered by surveillance cameras, and the access gates require biometric identification.

“Once someone has gone through the fence we know about it,” says Reserve Warden David Powrie “Secondly our rangers know about it….to do the work before the shot is fired and before the rhino dies. That’s where the difference comes in – communication in real time.”

The initiative has been led by Bruce Watson, a ranger and property owner at the reserve, and an executive at tech company Dimension Data. Watson leveraged his connections with Cisco Systems to build the unique network.

“The (local) infrastructure is very limited so we have had very little to work with,” says Watson. “But what we have created is a tech solution in terms of the internet of things around connected conservation.”

Phase two

The next phase of the project will see the introduction of thermal imaging, seismic sensors around the perimeters of the reserve, and drones patrolling the skies.

The rangers will combine these new capabilities with traditional sniffer dogs and trained soldiers on the ground, as part of a co-ordinated effort to catch and deter poachers.

This approach already appears to be bearing fruit, with almost six months since the last discovery of a dead rhino in the reserve. However the prohibitive cost of $1.5 million per year for the system will keep it out of the reach of less wealthy institutions.

Ultimately, raising awareness could prove more important than technology in the battle to save the rhino, according to leading local conservationist Dave Varty.

“I think that in the source markets that are buying rhino horn - at a higher level – it’s really becoming uncool to be part of that thing,” he says. “I think in society in the east there’s a change of attitude.”

But on the reserve, rangers are leaving nothing to chance.