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Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

From ground to the sky, converging technologies to protect precious wildlife and support rewilding 

Partner: Madikwe Futures Company NPC

Key Species: White & Black Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Wild Dog, Cheetah, Brown Hyena

Deployment: 2021-2023


In the heart of South Africa, Madikwe Game Reserve unfolds as a captivating conservation triumph. In the late 1980s, the region was severely degraded and carved up farmland, suffering under the weight of extensive cattle farming. 
A partnership between local communities, lodge owners and government has birthed a restoration project that not only united and revitalised the landscape, but also rewilded threatened species including white and black rhinos, African wild dogs and a plethora of avian wonders. The once-muted roars of elephants, lions and hyenas roam again, attracting tourists to sustain over 1,000 employment opportunities for the local communities. 

The threat of rhino poaching

However, a shadow looms over this success story—rhino poaching threatens to undo decades of hard work. 

In just the first six months of 2023 alone, 231 rhinos were lost to poaching in South Africa. With only 6,487 black rhinos left in the world, the urgency to protect Madikwe's rhinos cannot be overstated. Madikwe is a target for ruthless poachers. In response, Madikwe Futures Company (MFC) embarked on an innovative journey, integrating cutting-edge technologies to successfully safeguard and manage Madikwe’s amazing diversity of wildlife and habitat. 

Converging technology solutions

Since 2021, the convergence of on-the-ground tools and satellite technology has helped MFC assist with 16 arrests of suspected rhino poachers and aid the restoration of 750km² of wilderness.

Collaborating with the Connected Conservation Foundation (CCF), Cisco, Airbus Foundation and Actility –partners have worked together to equip the reserve with tools that unify ground-level measures with sky-based monitoring technologies. 

Through the integration of landscape-scale connectivity, communication and a LoRaWAN network, crucial data is collected and transmitted from various points across the reserve. This information is centralised in a control room, empowering Madikwe's security and conservation teams to seamlessly monitor the extensive landscape in real time from a singular location.

Eye in the sky satellite imagery and thermal cameras unravelling the landscape

Strategically placed thermal cameras, some donated by the CCF, have become the vigilant eyes along the reserve’s perimeter, detecting and deterring poachers. 

“They work. Cameras allow us to detect poachers 24/7,” states Koos Potgieter, Managing Director at Madikwe Futures Company. 

These cameras not only offer real-time surveillance but provide crucial insights into poaching behaviours, allowing for more effective counterstrategies.

The introduction of Pléiades Neo 30cm optical satellite imagery from the Airbus Foundation adds another layer of sophistication to Madikwe's operations. Very sadly, two rhino carcasses were detected in the imagery, helping to understand the time of death and assisting criminal intelligence in the incident investigation. The imagery has also helped identify the entry and exit routes used by poachers.

Koos Potgieter notes, "When you are looking at a 750km² area, technology is vital in helping us understand where to start and focus our efforts. Poachers are very experienced and part of organized crime. So it’s extremely valuable having an aerial view to see how the poachers are getting in and out of the reserve.”

As well as security, satellite imagery is aiding Madikwe's overall rewilding and restoration plans, including where to focus sickle bush removal and grassland enhancement for lions, wild dogs, hyenas and rhinos, offering a landscape-scale perspective.

LoRaWAN network: for threat detection and wildlife management

Madikwe Game Reserve has also implemented a new LoRaWAN network with the help of Cisco, Actility and CCF. This expansive network, spanning hundreds of kilometres, facilitates the deployment of advanced sensing devices including fence sensors, vehicle trackers and wildlife, canine and ranger trackers.

The amassed data reveals wildlife movement patterns, pinpoints poaching incursions and suspicious behaviour and identifies vulnerable animals. Moreover, it empowers Madikwe with optimised, data-driven conservation and security strategies.

Leslie Polizoti, Assistant Manager of MFC, emphasises the importance of technology in detection, stating, "You can have the best reaction team in the world (which we do!), but if you’ve got nothing detecting poachers, how do you effectively react?"

Sophie Maxwell, Executive Director of CCF, adds insight into the future of LoRa devices, "LoRa devices will keep on developing - from animal trackers to alarms. The Connected Conservation project enables Madikwe to easily plug in and utilise any new LoRa devices needed to safeguard the rangers and wildlife."

Securing the right solutions for impact 

CCF has collaborated with MFC to understand their challenges and acquire the most fitting technology for their requirements. CCF has secured donations of diverse high-tech equipment, including Push-To-Talk (PTT) Iridium Satellite phones, which have proven pivotal in helping anti-poaching units apprehend known poachers. 

“The PTT phones are being used every single day,” confirms Leslie. “The line is so clear. They are fundamental to our operations now.” 

The adept utilisation of a continually expanding conservation technology toolkit has led to 16 successful arrests between 2021-2023, compared to 0 in 2020. This has reduced rhino deaths  and enhanced security within the reserve and neighbouring communities.

Partnerships working for conservation and communities 

Thwarting local criminals fosters a more secure and peaceful environment for communities neighbouring Madikwe, whilst ensuring stable nature-based economies that continue to contribute to the livelihoods of local people reliant on ecotourism jobs.

  • Assisted with 16 arrests of suspected rhino poachers between 2021 and 2023, compared to 0 in 2020 before the collaboration.  
  • Helping landscape-scale management and restoration of 750km² of wilderness. 
  • Aiding to protect stable ecotourism supporting over 1,000 jobs to the local communities. 

Rangers In Control Room (1)
Madikwe White Rhino
Sky View Of Villages Surrounding Madikwe Game Reserve (C) PLÉIADES NEO SOUTH AFRICA © AIRBUS DS (2023)
Lora Network Madikwe (1)
Local Jobs

We work to foster the collaborative partnerships that are critical to achieving the sustainable recovery of wildlife populations.

Sophie Maxwell, Executive Director, Connected Conservation Foundation
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