Tech companies aren't doing enough for conservation: Bruce 'Doc' Watson

Tech companies aren't doing enough for conservation: Bruce 'Doc' Watson

How Dimension Data and Ciscos' conservation project has progressed

Credit: Photogallet |

More than 460 days went by without a rhinoceros carcass having been found in a private South African park where Dimension Data and Cisco have been building its Connected Conservation solution.

But despite this success, Bruce 'Doc' Watson, Dimension Data founder and group executive for the Cisco Global Alliance, still believes technology companies are far from doing enough to solve major environmental issues.

"But I think it is getting momentum," he told ARN. "I think there is a tremendous amount of companies that are approaching us interested to getting their technologies into the solutions."

He explained that the big companies, usually located in isolated areas such as the Silicon Valley in the US, have not been exposed to national parks or private reserves and, as a result, are reluctant to get involved.

Meanwhile, many are still put off by a prevailing stigma attached to travelling to Africa, he added. 

Nevertheless, when Cisco first came on board this project, the vendor had not quite grasped the area's remoteness and its communications black hole. But soon, Doc explained, realised how big companies like Cisco could support it.

Another obstacle to conservation is tech companies' tendency to compete "with their own differentiation" against each other, removing the necessary "glue" of collective leadership, Cisco CTO of engineering and chief architect Dave Ward also argued. 

"And their own differentiation most frequently is one extremely small piece of the overall solution," he said. "And so if one company is focusing on a widget, and another one is working on another widget there isn't much incentive for them, whether it's marketing value, brand value, or potentially even of course revenue business, for them to work with their competitors."

"And thankfully, over the last six to eight years, the tech industry has realised that multi-party and larger technical ecosystem plays are necessary," he added. 

Rhino poaching and a possible solution

Every year hundreds of rhinos are poached for their keratin horns, which are used both in Chinese medicine and as symbols of success and wealth.

The numbers of known poaching cases have declined slowly since 2014 when the total number of poached rhinos reached 1,215 according to the Department of Environmental Affairs Republic of South Africa. From then on the numbers fell to 1,175 cases in 2015, 1,054 in 2016, 1,028 in 2017 and 769 in 2018.

One of the country's most famous parks, the Kruger National Park registered a total of 421 rhino poached in 2018. Kruger occupies just under 20,000 square kilometres — the size of Israel — which makes it hard to control who moves in or out especially at night.

Back in 2015, Dimension Data – soon to be renamed in most countries as NTT – teamed up with Cisco to find a non-invasive way to prevent rhino poaching: a that is built around controlling human movement around the animals instead of having to tagging the rhinos with monitoring devices.

During the first phase, the companies focused on gathering information from the rangers, security personnel, technology and control centre teams. This led to the development of a highly secure Reserve Area Network (RAN) and the installation of Wi-Fi hotspots around key points.

Then came the second phase, where the private park saw the incorporation of CCTV, thermal imaging and magnetic sensors on a highly secure intelligent network. A long range radio network has also been installed to enable internal communication between security personnel and rangers within the boundary.

Ward explained to ARN that a lot of the technology currently in use was invented over the past four years in order for the software and hardware to communicate effectively and make it all work.

Cisco said the project has sparked the interest of numerous parks, projects and foundations. However, the vendor said it would have to study the safety of the areas and assess whether it would be a successful project, where it would have the greatest impact and whether it would be sustainable.

Ward said that both Cisco and Dimension Data would like to "step this up" to a much bigger scale. Currently, machine learning is one of five technologies being worked on to improve the existing system.

As previously reported, the project has expanded to Zambia, Mozambique to protect elephants and Kenya, to protect both elephants and rhinos.

Some of the project successes include reducing the response times for rangers to get to the animals from anywhere in the 62,000-hectare reserve from 30 minutes to 7 minutes. In addition, the incursion rate of illegal entries into the reserve has been reduced by 68 per cent.

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Tags ciscodimension datarhinosConnected Conservation

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