Satellites and machine learning used to tackle poaching in Africa
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Inmarsat, Intel and RESOLVE, a Washington DC based non-profit environmental and health organisation, have developed a satellite connectivity-enabled solution to help protect endangered African wildlife – TrailGuard AI.

The system uses an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered camera to detect humans in nature reserves, with 97 per cent accuracy, and instantly transmits images to park rangers’ facilities, over Inmarsat’s L-band, global, mobile satellite communications network, enabling them to identify would-be poachers and intervene. Intel played a critical role in the development of the solution, by providing engineering experience and support. TrailGuard AI uses Inmarsat’s mobile, reliable and robust BGAN terminals, which are simple to set up, connect to the units and can withstand harsh environments. The use of Inmarsat’s satellite network overcomes the lack of reliable terrestrial connectivity in most remote nature reserves.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and National Geographic Society are partnering to fund and deploy TrailGuard AI. The first deployment of the solution, at the Singita-Grumeti reserve in Tanzania in 2018, has resulted in the arrest of around 30 poachers and the seizure of quantities of bushmeat. Having identified the 100 parks with the highest risk of poaching, RESOLVE is seeking to deploy the TrailGuard AI devices at ten ‘chokepoints’ – poacher intrusion hotspots – within each of these parks, by the end of 2020.

Dr. Eric Dinerstein, director of WildTech and the biodiversity and wildlife solutions programme at RESOLVE, commented: “Wildlife poaching in Africa is at epidemic levels, but despite the best efforts of dedicated rangers, the large park boundaries and rough terrain mean that they often only find out about poaching when it’s too late. The TrailGuard solution acts as an early warning system, transitioning ranger teams into fully mobile, rapid-response units so that they can respond to would-be poachers and stop them in their tracks.

“For the TrailGuard solution to work effectively we need rock solid connectivity, which, in most remote African wildlife reserves, is only achievable with satellite. Inmarsat’s global, ultra-reliable satellite connectivity was the only solution that could help us overcome the connectivity challenges we faced and connect our smart sensors deployed out in the parks. This is expected to detect 80 per cent of poaching gangs operating in each area, which is by far the most effective strategy based on the resources and manpower available.”

Alastair Bovim, vice president managed services Inmarsat Enterprise, commented: “We are delighted to be joining forces with RESOLVE to help support sustainability and bio-diversity in Africa. Our collaboration will ensure that when TrailGuard detects a poacher, rangers are notified immediately of their exact location and can initiate an effective response, no matter how remote the environment. Africa’s poaching problem won’t be solved overnight, but if we can prevent even a small proportion of attacks, it will have a hugely positive impact on the continent’s incredible wildlife,” he concluded.

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