Industrial Wireless

Water monitoring for rhino conservation

August 2023 Industrial Wireless

To rescue, rehabilitate and protect rhino populations, highly specialised conservation programmes have been set up in some of the biggest national parks in southern Africa. In fact, over 44% of protected land in South Africa is dedicated to nature reserves, which all need to manage the continuous supply of clean, filtered water and process waste water to run efficiently. Ian Loudon, international sales and marketing manager at remote monitoring specialist Omniflex explains how South African rhino sanctuaries are using wireless tank monitoring to keep conservation programmes running.

According to Save The Rhino, there are just 6195 black rhinos and 15 942 white rhinos left in the world, the largest populations being in South Africa. Worryingly, ongoing poaching of rhinos means that both species face extinction if they are not adequately protected.

Because protection sites will span over tens of thousands of hectares, installing water tank monitoring systems for a conservation site is not easy. Water tanks and reservoirs are often located in difficult-to-access, unsafe areas and installing control cables over large areas is expensive. Therefore facilities managers are turning to wireless systems to monitor and manage the potable (consumable) and grey (waste) water levels for the camps, facilities and feeding stations for convalescent rhinos.

Choosing a wireless system

When choosing a system for water monitoring facilities. managers have several options, including licence-free band radio telemetry. This system uses restricted radio band frequencies, controllers and separate radio remote terminal units (RTUs), with data interfaces to monitor and control a site’s water tanks. The licence-free band allows as many devices as necessary to be connected without regulatory approval. The band used is free from other radio traffic that can interfere and disrupt communications for managing water reticulation.

With impractical cable distances and expensive instrumentation costs, managers on conservation sites have no feasible way of monitoring water conditions in their tanks using traditional solutions. By exploring wireless products that blend radio and controllers into a single package, it is possible to monitor and control water tank levels remotely over a conservation site. Products like these use licence-free band frequencies to avoid unnecessary engineering and costly administration.

A reliable solution is a system comprising multiple RTUs wirelessly interfaced into a big-screen television at a central administration point, which, due to security levels required for anti-poaching, is manned 24/7. This screen provides an overview of all water tanks located in the facility, many of which are located several kilometres away. Each RTU is configured to detect high and low water tank levels in real time, and will trigger an on-screen alarm when abnormalities are detected.

Due to the remote location of the potable water reservoir, it is impractical to connect the RTUs in these tanks to the mains power. Therefore, each terminal has a built-in solar panel, and requires no additional power connections. Because the RTUs monitoring grey water are located closer to the manned station, they can be hardwired using a single cable to the mains power. However, to be off-grid and independent, the entire facility is powered by a solar system and backup generator for emergencies. This ensures that the remote monitoring of water levels is independent, despite nationwide grid outages.

The system ensures conservation sites can monitor the conditions of their water tanks over distances of up to 15 kilometres. The RTUs are also robust, and are housed in a weatherproof casing with power supply charger units and backup batteries. What’s more, the low power consumption of the system makes it suitable for solar powered out-stations at remote reservoirs.

Conservation programmes are crucial to maintaining breeding populations and protecting endangered species from poachers. Therefore, every process from the installation of security fences to the monitoring of water levels must be carefully and efficiently controlled. When facility assets are spread over a large area, wireless remote monitoring technology makes control and management more simple, efficient and cost-effective.


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