Wildlife Conservation - Tracking with LPWAN Technology

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by Alexis Leibbrandt

Even though poaching has decreased during the past years, wildlife game reserves still have many challenges to overcome. LPWAN technology can be key for protecting wildlife and supporting rangers in operational decisions. This article shares insights into a private wildlife reserve in South Africa and how akenza enabled the creation of an end-to-end LPWAN tracking solution.

The challenge of the wildlife game reserve

Poaching is threatening wildlife conservation in Africa. Elephant and rhino populations have been devastated and the bushmeat trade is severely impacting wildlife populations.

The fight against it is challenging, as most areas are enormous with minimal infrastructure, tight financial resources, and ongoing corruption.

The number of poached rhinos in South Africa has been on a steady decrease since 2015. Unfortunately, this number has been rising again since the coronavirus hit South Africa. Poachers now have more chances to poach as the tourism traffic has decreased.

The park mentioned in this article is a private game reserve in the Limpopo area in South Africa, where Lukas Schefer from Volunteering Africa works as a ranger during his holidays. As the popularity lies with the Kruger National Park, private Game Reserves do not receive financial support from the government. Therefore finance resources are tight and available money needs to be invested carefully.

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IoT requirements

The park management had high technical requirements for the new animal tracking solution. It should replace the old radio telemetry by being more reliable, cost-effective and more accurate for location detection. The battery lifetime needed to have at least a 4 years duration, as the animals must be anesthetized for installing the device to the animal’s body. Furthermore, the new solution was expected to provide various insights, such as whether certain species are increasing or decreasing and whether more herbivores or more carnivores would be required to keep the ecosystemic balanced.

IoT solution with LoRaWAN

As a result of the evaluation phase, where the biggest challenge was the battery lifetime, the decision was taken to install a private LoRaWAN network. With the LoRaWAN technology, one has certainty for long signal range, low power devices and low cost connectivity.

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Footband for rhino. Picture: Volunteering Africa

Wildlife conservation IoT use cases

The following use cases were executed with around 12 solar-powered gateways:

  • Animal location tracking with footbands and collars for animals with devices from Abeeway
  • Car tracking with devices from Digital Matter
  • Gate & fence monitoring and controlling
  • Water pump monitoring and controlling

As a result, all use cases brought immediate benefits to animals, rangers, and park management right after the implementation. Animals can be found fast by knowing the exact location and therefore be protected from poachers. Rangers know the location of each other and can provide support when emergencies occur. On the other hand, fence alerts can be triggered to take immediate action using mail and SMS notifications on akenza. Additionally, gates and water pumps are monitored and can be remotely controlled. This saves a lot of time and resources, as no drives through the bushland are needed anymore.

akenza as the IoT platform enables extensive connectivity- and device management, data processing, and storage. The data visualization for specialized wildlife applications is handled via heatmaps and geofencing from Earthranger, which is fed by akenza via a webhook connector. The rangers and park management can use this application to track animals and cars, identify certain behaviors, or type in notes of incidents such as bushfires, injured animals, and others.

To trigger a GPS request, an external application is connected via HTTP. A predefined condition on the Rule Engine on akenza triggers the specific device via downlink to request the GPS coordinates of one or multiple devices.

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System architecture of IoT-stack

"akenza is the perfect match for my project requirements. Knowing that I can change different layers on my IoT stack anytime gives me pure freedom, allowed by the agnostic approach of akenza. With the Low-code functionalities, I’m able to manage my connectivities, devices and rule conditions on my own. I also want to point out the great support and collaboration with the akenza team."
Lukas Schefer, Founder of Volunteering Africa

If you'd like to learn more about the project, check out the 20-minute webinar in which Lukas Schefer from Volunteering Africa personally shares insights about his project in Southern Africa, demonstrating how akenza enabled a straightforward IoT solution.