Protecting Elephants and Rhinos in the Wild with Drones, Data, and IoT

Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP) is digitalizing the fight for Southern Africa’s threatened population of elephants and rhinos in the wild.

For myriad reasons, Southern Africa’s elephants and rhinos are at risk. Targeted by poachers, hunters and wildlife traffickers, on average up to four elephants are lost every hour, and three rhinos are lost every day.

The threat of extinction of these giants comes down to economics and the exploitation of poverty. Rhino horn is worth thousands of times the per-capita income in poor areas of Southern Africa, in regions where most people have no formal income at all. On the global black market, rhino horn can fetch up to $80,000 per kilogram.

Traumatized by the plight of elephants and rhinos in the wild, the leaders of groupelephant.com launched the non-profit organization ERP to protect elephants and rhinos through an innovative strategy based on poverty alleviation in rural areas adjacent to the threatened species.

Engaging the Community in the Survival of Elephants and Rhinos

Guided by its “Beyond Corporate Purpose” hybrid business model, groupelephant.com goes well beyond mere corporate social responsibility with ERP.  For the largely employee-owned group of companies, ERP is part of day-to-day operations.


“We harness the collective hitting power of our business in going ‘Beyond Corporate Purpose,’ allowing us to save the lives of elephants and rhinos, while alleviating poverty in rural areas adjacent to the threatened species.”

Johnathan Tager, CEO, groupelephant.com and Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP)


The thesis underpinning ERP’s strategy is that by coupling elephant and rhino welfare to economic welfare of nearby rural communities, elephants and rhinos can be protected on a sustainable, long-term manner.

“Ultimately, the best guardians of wild elephants and rhinos are the communities living adjacent to these threatened species. We are building sustainable economic alternatives so they can stay away from the brutal act of poaching, and need not depend on revenue from hunting and wildlife trafficking,” according to Tager.

ERP currently has approximately 20 initiatives underway or under evaluation, ranging from a large-scale property development/ecotourism project in partnership with rural communities, designed to provide additional land for an under-pressure elephant population, through to deployment of income-generating beehive fences to de-escalate human-elephant conflict in poverty-stricken rural areas. Given that the overall strategy is a medium- to long-term proposition, ERP utilizes a range of tactical solutions designed to protect elephants and rhinos in the near term. One of these initiatives is known as the ERP Air Force, and is powered by SAP technology.

 

Putting Technology at the Core of a Worthwhile Mission

ERP uses SAP technology as part of its ERP Air Force tactical intervention to save wild elephants and rhinos.

“Our for-profit business is built on delivering SAP services,” said Tager. “We apply one percent of our revenues to fund ERP. All overheads are covered by groupelephant.com’s support, so – unusually in the conservation world – 100 percent of any third-party financial support for ERP is applied directly to fieldwork, with not a dollar of it spent on overheads.”

In addition to funding ERP’s activities, groupelephant.com leverages its SAP expertise to build technology solutions to allow ERP to amplify its elephant and rhino protection efforts in the field. For example, the ERP Air Force harnesses SAP Cloud Platform and IoT to track the movements of individual elephants for a variety of reasons. A couple of elephants in a herd wear a physical collar using GPS satellite technology. ERP elephant and rhino monitors then track the position of each creature, and by implication a whole family, in real time and on an ongoing basis.

Whenever a herd or lone elephant approaches the outer limits of a protected area, the GPS collar sends an alert to an on-duty monitor. In response, the ERP Air Force surveillance team flies a drone to check the reported location for signs of trouble. Then, rangers drive to the site to nudge the herd or individual elephant away from danger.

ERP also stores and processes positioning data in the SAP HANA database through SAP Cloud Platform, creating high-volume data-driven insights.

“By ultimately applying the analytical capabilities of SAP Leonardo, we will be able to predict where and when we may have to act, buying us valuable time to be proactive,” according to Quintin Smith, a partner in groupelephant.com and a director of ERP.

Drones constantly patrol high risk areas in a reserve. When the pilot identifies unauthorized individuals, a ranger is dispatched to investigate and take appropriate action.

ERP also utilizes an SAP Fiori mobile application to display the locations of GPS-collared elephants, to authorized personnel. Through the necessary anonymization of data, this could evolve to become a crowdsourcing platform where people in different time zones across the globe can participate in safeguarding elephants in Southern Africa.


“Having large volumes of data available, we can start leveraging artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to determine movement patterns so we can optimize our resources and take more effective preventive measures.”

Quintin Smith, partner, groupelephant.com, and
director of Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP)


Innovating a Defense System for South Africa’s Elephants and Rhinos

Killing of elephants and rhinos is a daily event in Southern Africa, but this is not the case where ERP’s tactical initiatives are in play. The combination of SAP technology, drones, and GPS collars is deterring the threats of poaching. Simultaneously, ERP is hard at work alleviating poverty in the surrounding communities through sustainable economic initiatives, creating a nexus for the communities between their economic well-being, and the welfare of elephants and rhinos.

Smith concluded, “For us, SAP technology serves to amplify our efforts.  We are dependent on SAP for areas of our for-profit business, and now ERP is dependent on SAP in our efforts to scale our initiatives to protect elephants and rhinos in the wild.”