The news is not always bad. Sometimes it can be good, too. For example: a few weeks ago, the world’s largest natural protected area came into being. At 2.06 million square kilometres (an area roughly the size of South Africa and Namibia combined), the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area is a remote ocean wilderness near Antarctica that gives home to several species, including emperor penguins and killer whales. It is the result of years of hard work and co-ordination among 25 different governments worldwide, providing a fine example of what can be achieved when people figure out how to work together despite their differences.
Techno Parkers may be surprised to learn that there is an organisation in their back yard working to create and maintain similar large-scale conservation areas, albeit closer to home than the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), with offices at 11 Termo Lane in Techno Park, was founded in 1997 to facilitate the establishment of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) across southern Africa. To date, the Foundation has played an instrumental role in linking more than one million square kilometres of protected areas and ecosystems across international borders, safeguarding local biodiversity on an unprecedented scale.
In recent years, accelerating population growth, and the increased commercial exploitation of natural resources that goes along with it, have given a new dimension of urgency to the Foundation’s work. The complex negotiations across multiple political, social and commercial sectors that are involved in the formation of TFCAs often take years to accomplish, and in the meantime ecosystems are being destroyed and species threatened with extinction at an ever-expanding pace.
For Peace Park Foundation, that’s where technology comes in. One way in which they aim to bridge the widening gap between conservation and exploitation is by harnessing cutting-edge technologies and communication networks in their conservation efforts. Especially in remote, rural areas without proper infrastructure, unreliable technological systems do not always provide the kind of real-time, on-the-ground data that is crucial for monitoring species, combatting wildlife crime and achieving a healthier balance between agricultural practices and biodiversity conservation.
Take, for example, Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) in Kwazulu-Natal, also known as the “birthplace of the rhino”. Half a century ago this is where the southern white rhino was brought back from the brink of extinction. This year, however, a wave of poaching activities far in excess of what could have been expected struck the Park. Despite the commitment of wildlife officials and rangers who often spend weeks in the bush, away from their families, the situation is dire: the very existence of the HiP rhinos are being threatened.
In partnership with Peace Parks Foundation, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, who manages HiP, has decided to implement the latest cutting-edge technologies to develop the park into a so-called “Smart Park”, aiming to stay one step ahead of the poachers. Intelligent surveillance systems, image recognition cameras, digital radios, handheld data collection devices, animal tracking sensors, gate and access control systems, and vehicle and aerial response tracking systems are some of the data sources that will be integrated into a new, unified technology ecosystem, which will be run from a central command-and-control system via a simple web-based application. A Low Power Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWan) will facilitate the integration of these various data points into a veritable Internet of Things, creating a framework of synthesised data that will guide the operations director in running the day-to-day anti-poaching operations in the park.
While technology is just one aspect of Peace Parks Foundation’s multi-layered and holistic approach towards protecting our biodiversity, it has become increasingly evident that in order to keep pace with the encroachment of commercial exploitation on dwindling natural resources, it is one of the critical tools in helping the good guys stay ahead of the curve. So, while you’re taking a break from work over Christmas, remember that much of the work around technology and innovation that is done in a place like Techno Park has applications that reach well beyond the everyday to play an important role in our future.
And if you happen to be in a position this holiday to enjoy our natural biodiversity – whether it’s in Antarctica or Kwazulu-Natal, or even just at the local beach – spare a thought for those working to protect it.
For more information about Peace Parks Foundation and the work they are doing, visit www.peaceparks.org.