India has an amazing spectrum of animals native to the country. It is home to Bengal tigers, the Asian elephant,one-horned rhinoceros, deer, pythons, wolves, bears, foxes, among others. The country’s rich and diverse wildlife is preserved in 120-plus national parks, 18 bio-reserves and 500-plus wildlife sanctuaries. Beyond the pretty picture, there’s a mammoth problem: In recent decades human encroachment has posed a threat to India’s wildlife. Not only that, animals in the wild are threatened by illegal wildlife trade.
For evidence, take a look at the following statistics. As recently as 100 years ago, as many as 100,000 wild tigers roamed across Asia. Today, about 3,900 tigers are left in the wild, occupying a mere 4% of their former territory. India may have the highest population of tigers in the wild, accounting for approximately 2,226 of the estimated 3,900 tigers worldwide, but the fact is the big cat is on the brink of extinction.
This catastrophic population decline is driven by a range of threats, including poaching for illegal wildlife trade, overhunting of prey species by local people, habitat loss and fragmentation, and human-tiger conflict.
Between, 2010 and 2015, the enforcement authorities made 540 tiger seizures, indicating that the country’s national animal is the most vulnerable to poaching for international trade.
Similarly, domestic demand for ivory is one of the drivers for elephant deaths in India, with a few communities of Western India using it for bangles and others for decorative ornamental purposes. Poaching for meat and other products like tail hair also pose threats to populations, especially in north-east India. Ivory is also smuggled out to countries like Japan and China via Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines.
“The problem with our national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is that there is unregulated movement of people—of locals, tourists, even poachers. Most of the forest reserves are in remote locations and poachers almost have a free-run,” says an official from Dimension Data, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Japanese NTT Group.
Tech to the rescue
Now, you may find a tech company commenting on the state of our national parks wildlife a bit odd, but Dimension Data’s involvement in wildlife conservation is pretty deep. Dimension Data and Cisco have developed a new technology system called Connected Conservation that allows forest rangers to be more proactive—in other words, to find and stop poachers before they kill. To test and refine the system, last year the two companies installed the system in a private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in South Africa.
“Since implementing Connected Conservation, the number of rhinos that were being poached has been reduced by 96%,” says Kiran Bhagwanani, CEO, Dimension Data, India. And Dimension Data is now looking to install this system in national parks across India, and is talking to a few state governments for this.
“We are using modern technology to securely transform conservation,” says Bhagwanani. “Technologies such as digital infrastructure to digitise and analyse the entry and exit information of people visiting the park; hybrid cloud to ensure data backup in real time; and ‘Workspaces for Tomorrow’ that makes sure the rangers are always seamlessly connected within the park via multiple devices. Information from the game rangers, security personnel and control centre teams are collected and analysed.”
The new system integrates a set of technologies—Wi-Fi, thermal cameras, biometrics, closed-circuit televisions, and sensors— to create a security network across an entire game reserve. A high-value, point-to-point router network was built and tested as a proof of concept, to create a security ‘net’ which covers the entire perimeter of the reserve. In addition, a 72-km fence line was electrified with sensors and thermal cameras at high intensive zones. These are all linked to a high security management control room which is manned round-the-clock.
Individuals entering the gate are required to show their ID or passport, and vehicle registration plates. These are cross-checked with the South African national database, and helps security personnel to identify whether a person entering the reserve has a criminal record, or whether the vehicle has been stolen. Sniffer dogs also check vehicles and individuals going through the gates. Security rangers, who are trained in warfare, have software installed on their iPads and iPhones which enable them to communicate securely with each other in the field, and with the team in the reserve control centre, according to Dimension Data officials.
“Instead of using a reactive solution such as darting, drilling into their horns or inserting sensors, we are using proactive measures to intercept the poachers before any harm comes to the animal,” Bhagwanani informs. “By harnessing a powerful technology trend, Internet of Things, we are enabling sustainable conservation.
Also, digitising the physical security processes provided a more reliable and accurate sequence for allowing people in and out of the reserve. This data provides the game rangers, security personnel, technology, and control centre teams with valuable historical data, transparency and visibility.
“In India, we are looking at replicating this success. Currently, we are in talks with few state governments to protect and conserve endangered species, including Asiatic lions and tigers. Dimension Data wanted to go beyond business outcomes and ‘give back’ by investing in an initiative that made a difference to society, the environment, and the planet,” he stresses.
The most important thing in the context of conservation in India is the creation of space. We need to create space where the animals may roam freely. That’s what the Connected Conservation technology does.
“It creates a safe haven,” says Bhagwanani, while pitching a strong case for its adoption in order to protect the country’s wildlife.