Eutelsat, Sigfox Foundation join forces to fight rhino poaching

HARARE – French-based satellite operator Eutelsat and Sigfox Foundation have joined forces to combat rhino poaching by inserting Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors to 3 000 rhinos over the next three years.

This comes as the rhino population has significantly declined due to rampant poaching from an estimated figures of 500 000 across Africa and Asia in the early 1900s to around 29 000 to date, according to Save the Rhino — an international organisation supporting endangered rhinos.

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Endangered species - rhino

Animal conservationists assert that rhinos could become extinct in just over 10 years’ time if poaching continues at current rates.

This has prompted the Sigfox Foundation, which uses connected sensors to save lives, to partner with Eutelsat to better monitor rhinos by having exact locations with a secured and long-term tracking system on the company’s network, and therefore better protect the animals.

“In just a decade, more than 7 245 African rhinos have been lost to poaching. By tracking the animals, we can protect them from poachers and better understand their habits to encourage them to breed and ultimately conserve the species,” Eutelsat director of the sub-Saharan Africa region Nicolas Baravalle told the businessdaily.

Using Sigfox’s very low-speed network, Sigfox Foundation has designed and implemented a remote tracking solution for rhinos in their natural environment.

GPS sensors installed in the horn of the animal send geo-location data which is then repatriated thanks to Eutelsat’s satellite resources to a secure online platform. Wardens, vets and specialists, can access, three times a day, readouts of the movements of the animals.

This precise data will allow them to provide rhinos with better protection against poaching and improve understanding of an endangered species.

Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years and is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam.

Rhino horn can sell for as much as $95 000 per kilogramme in Asia, more valuable than gold. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine but more and more commonly now it is used as a status symbol to display someone’s success and wealth.

This has resulted in South Africa — home to the majority of rhinos in the world — being heavily targeted by poachers.

According to Save the Rhino, in around 2013, the South African crisis spread to other countries in Africa.

Sigfox Foundation president Marion Moreau said Kenya was the first to be hit hard — its worst year for poaching was in 2013, when 59 animals were killed, which was more than five percent of the national population.

“In 2015, both Zimbabwe and Namibia were hit hard — Namibia lost 80 rhinos to poaching, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012, while in Zimbabwe at least 50 rhinos were poached in 2015, more than double the previous year,” she said.

“For Africa as a whole, the total number of rhinos poached during 2015 was the highest in two decades.

All the countries in Africa are now under threat. The illegal horn market is more evaluated than cocaine market. Last March in France, a white rhino based in a zoo was slaughtered for the first time in history,” Moreau added.

Prior to officialising the partnership, Eutelsat and Sigfox Foundation have been working since November 2016 on an initial operation in southern Africa. Three base stations of the Sigfox low-speed internet of things (IoT) network are connected to the secure platform for tracking rhinos using Eutelsat’s smartLNB satellite service, which extend terrestrial IoT networks everywhere, beyond urban areas.

“The partnership agreed between Eutelsat and the Sigfox Foundation for the protection of rhinos is an invaluable opportunity to gain a better understanding of an endangered species and be part of the effort to protect them. Thanks to the support of Eutelsat, we can give rhinos a voice every day, wherever they are,” Sigfox Foundation president Marion Moreau said.

She noted that her organisation is aiming to achieve its mission on endangered rhinos on a global vision, with a complete monitoring and surveillance system – included the tracking – using new technologies.

“As far as we will have impact results with good devices, we will be able to simply adapt on others species. But we want to be successful on rhinos first, and we will do the maximum for that,” Moreau added.