The College’s R&D Department tests technology to ensure that is is fit for purpose


By Peter Hamming

Curiosity has lured humankind into the outskirts of the earth and even into space. With this curiosity has come technology, which in turn has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and questions. Generally, technology is used to connect humanity and increase agricultural and industrial production using fewer people. As such, life has become “easier” and the harshness of nature subdued for human comfort in many areas of the world. For us the important question is: can this technology be used to protect the environment and natural spaces that we as humans need for our physical and psychological well being?

Climate change, recycling, droughts, floods, are all discussed at the highest levels of society, but few people realise the reality on the ground in conservation areas. Resources are limited, areas to patrol are vast, and the environment can be harsh. At the Southern African Wildlife College we understand these realities from firsthand experience. We know how hard it is to be a field ranger, working in tough conditions and having to be strong minded and physically tough to work in these conditions.

The Applied Learning Unit (ALU) – now the R & D Department –  at the SAWC was established to enhance conservation and best practice by sharing practical knowledge and integrating this into the training we offer. Through this applied approach, the unit is addressing the rapidly changing possibilities of using technology in practical conservation to lighten the load of protected area managers, rangers and others. One particularly tough environment is the pristine Zambezi River Delta in Mozambique; a sanctuary for diversity and an internationally recognized RAMSAR site. Here the R&D is implementing and testing technological solutions for management and research, whilst also conducting research projects such as the IUCN BIOPAMA Rapid Action and CAKE projects. Some of these technologies include SMART conservation software, Earth Ranger software, ESRI protected area Management software and the infrastructure to support these technologies.

The newest addition to be tested in Mozambique are battery operated motor bikes sponsored by CAKE. These bikes will be operated by rangers and donated for anti-poaching operations as part of the CAKE and Ground Zero initiative.

Mozambique is an excellent place to test the durability of the CAKE bikes and to see how fit they are for purpose, especially given that comparisons that can be done in situ with the off-road petrol bike currently used for patrols. Rangers load their tents, food, fuel and all they need on the bikes before they set off for their multi-day patrol. The rangers will use the bikes to follow narrow pathways that cut through the forest and bush, made more challenging by patches of deep sand and water. Once they reach their destination, they set up camp and conduct foot patrols in the area.

The R & D department will be testing the CAKE bikes to test how the batteries last in the sand, water, and heat. The current battery design is estimated to support three hours of travel before it needs to be recharged. GOAL ZERO solar power stations will charge the batteries after a patrol. In this way a patrol will protect the environment by both their presence and by traveling green.

Some of the questions that will be asked are: Is the bike rugged enough to cope with the terrain? Will the battery last in the extreme conditions? Will arrests increase as a result of the reduced noise factor? How does the operational cost of CAKE bikes compare to traditional motorbikes bikes?

There are exciting times ahead. A new technology with the possibility of making a real difference to conservation is in development and the SAWC has the privilege of testing it. “The testing ground is set, research questions developed, and now it is up to the bike to show what it is made of,” said Researcher, Peter Hamming who works alongside Prof. Alan Gardiner within the Research and Development department.By