Fighting rhino poaching with thermal camera technology
Every day more than four rhino are killed in South Africa, an epidemic that is reducing the numbers of these majestic animals by over 1 100 a year in this country alone. Driving the slaughter is a greed for horns that fetch upwards of $1-million per kilogram – higher than the price of gold – in turn attracting organised crime, international syndicates and impoverished foot soldiers willing to take a lot of risk. Rhino poachers have grown in force, using automatic weapons and high-powered rifles to target their prey.
Owners of these animals feel helpless in the onslaught, often financially unable to support the security demands of protecting one of Africa’s big five. To this end many have joined forces with Thaba Manzi Wildlife Services to create a rhino sanctuary in the Limpopo province. Home to dozens of rhino, either privately owned or orphaned by poaching attacks, the sanctuary is a beachhead against a war that threatens to rob the continent of an iconic animal.
It’s a fight that sits close to the principles of Axis Communications, an innovator for a smarter safer world. As such the company donated several thermal cameras to the value of R300,000 to the sanctuary. But these are not mere optical cameras wired to a central viewing station. The Axis Q1931-E is an evolution from military technology. It operates in thermal, which means anything hidden in dust, smoke and even total darkness cannot evade its notice. Specifically calibrated for certain heat signals, the Q1931-E hones in on humans in particular. It can also track heat signatures on the ground, so even if the person isn’t spotted, their footprints will be.
“This is a great opportunity and privilege,” said Roy Alves, Regional Business Development Manager of Axis Communications, at the handover ceremony. “If the rhino is gone, we’ll never have anything like it again. So Axis wanted to make a contribution that will help make a difference in the fight to protect them.”
Thermal cameras such as the Q1931-E already make it a lot harder for criminals to even approach their targets. But this camera is also engineered to operate intelligently. Thermal Network Cameras are a perfect tool for perimeter protection, offering highly performing video analytics. The cameras use thermal imaging, which allows users to detect people, objects and incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from pitch dark areas to a sunlit parking lot. This makes it possible to acknowledge suspect activity already before intrusion, and to visually verify what is going on before taking relevant action.
“The element of surprise is always important,” said Carl Thornton, team leader of Pit-Track, a non-profit K9 security service that helps safeguard the sanctuary. He praised the cameras, adding that these will compliment his team’s ability to stop poachers before they can get close to the rhino.
The value of this can’t be understated. Poachers are audacious and often very organised. Pit-Track was recruited after the sanctuary, despite tight security, experienced several breaches. Now with smart thermal cameras to keep watch 24 hours a day, the advantage is being removed from criminals eager to destroy Africa’s heritage for some quick cash.
Some may be tempted to evade the thermal cameras, but will find the Q1931-E is also tamper-proof. Even if they stay out of its field of view, with the help of a motion sensor the camera knows if something is trying to approach its blindspots. It can also intelligently analyse sound, again alerting authorities if it hears something out of place. A collection of well-positioned Q1931-E cameras create a digital barrier that is significantly harder to avoid than any human observation.
“Thermal technology has become far more accessible to private and commercial security,” said Alves. “What once required an army of equipment and observation posts can now be handled by a handful of well-placed cameras.”
Axis also donated its time, technicians and training to help ensure the sanctuary and Pit-Track can easily operate the equipment. One very thankful rhino guardian was Dr. Jana Fourie, founder of the Rhino Pride Foundation, which supports the sanctuary.
“We have had a lot of incursion attempts before. It’s already an expensive and difficult challenge to help the rhino recuperate from attacks, so every effort helps – and these cameras will help a lot.”