South Africa conservationist, Brett Barlow needed a robust security solution to protect Munu, a blind, South Western Black Rhinoceros, whose species is critically endangered.

Barlow deployed a FLIR solution, comprising thermal cameras, visible cameras and an NVR, for around-the-clock monitoring, early detection and real-time response.

Throughout the 20th century, big-game hunters, settlers and poachers have decimated Africa’s black rhino population. In the early 1970s, there were approximately 65,000 black rhinos – by 2018, that number was reduced to 5630. In 2020, there are 3 remaining subspecies of the black rhino, one of the most vulnerable being the South Western Black Rhinoceros, of which there are only 254 left in South Africa.

In 2019, rangers working at a South African National Park found a black rhino walking in circles and visibly disoriented. After safely tranquilizing him, an ophthalmic surgeon confirmed that the rhino, known as Munu, had suffered 2 detached retinas and was completely blind, likely as a result of disputes with other rhinos in the area.

As soon as he heard about the situation, renowned South African conservationist, Brett Barlow spoke with the South African National Park and offered to permanently house and protect Munu.

“Every rhino matters,” Barlow said.

The South African National Park later transferred Munu to Barlow’s care. However, Barlow wasn’t the only one who wanted to help Munu. Adrian Gardiner, globally renowned conservationist famous for founding the Shamwari Game Reserve and the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in South Africa, extended the invite for Munu to stay on one of his properties, the Mantis Founder’s Lodge.

Wasting no time, Barlow relocated Munu to the lodge, knowing it would increase his quality of life. The property, spanning 850 hectares, is home to 5 white rhinos, as well as other animals, including zebra and giraffe. The White Lion Foundation, in which Gardiner and Barlow are both executive board members, donated funds to construct Munu’s boma, comprising a secure covered boma and a 5-hectare open grazing area.

Though under Barlow’s care and in a safe enclosure, Munu still faced many grave threats because of his highly valuable horn. Much of Munu’s horn was removed to protect him, but the amount of horn that remained is still worth thousands of dollars. Experts say that one pound of rhino horn is worth at least US$ 3,000 universally and 10 times that, on Asian black markets. Even with much of his horn removed, Munu was still in danger.

Self-harm was also a risk should Munu charge into the boma. Munu’s next door neighbour, Rodney, a white bull rhino, was also a concern should a territorial fight occur. For all these reasons, Barlow looked for ways to enhance Munu’s safety.

Video Surveillance For Enhanced Security

Previously, the Mantis Founder’s Lodge employed 2 guards for Munu’s security. However, Barlow believes guards should only be a second line of defence, a visual deterrent that responds to threats.

“I wanted to go down to the electronic security system route,” Barlow said. “Technology doesn’t sleep.”

The first security manufacturer Barlow hired charged high prices for their security products. More than this, once installed, Barlow discovered that these devices were unable to deliver quality images in extreme weather conditions, such as mist or rain, both of which are commonplace at the Lodge. As such, he decided Munu’s security required for a more robust and reliable video security system.

In 2019, Wilke Pretorius, distribution sales Manager for Sub Sahara Africa at FLIR Systems, was working with Brett Barlow on a separate project. When Barlow told Pretorius about Munu, Pretorius informed the FLIR team who immediately got involved.

FLIR donated an end-to-end surveillance system, featuring thermal and visible cameras, in order to protect Munu from poachers. FLIR’s powerful thermal and visible imaging cameras deliver intrusion detection at much longer ranges and complete, 24-hour perimeter protection, regardless of weather conditions.

“Other camera manufacturers don’t compare – their cameras can’t see through mist or rain. FLIR delivers images 24/7, rain or shine, darkness or light,” Barlow said. “Technology like FLIR thermal cameras allow for early warnings for perimeter breaches. Even though rhinos have weak eyesight, without any sight, they are basically defenceless. So, in essence, FLIR became Munu’s eyes.”

Installation of FLIR Cameras

Installing the new security system was not an easy task. Merely 2 days prior to the arrival of FLIR cameras, in March 2020, South Africa was ordered into an immediate lockdown, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Barlow was eager to begin the installation process, so he set out to do it himself.

By early May 2020, a 2-person crew had manually dug over 600 meters of trenching to run cable and conduit through the lodge’s hard African soil. Barlow also installed a solar array to power the system. He cut bushes, installed polling and connected the entire system to FLIR’s central network video recorder (NVR), to view the camera feeds both inside and surrounding Munu’s boma. The result is a fully functioning, comprehensive video security system.

Barlow worked closely with Pretorius to strategically design and lay out the FLIR security system based on a 2-tier model. The perimeter is shaped as a big triangle about 110 yards away from the boma enclosure.

There are 6 FLIR Elara FB-Series ID thermal security cameras, which use onboard analytics to classify human or vehicular intrusions, installed to monitor the outer perimeter or the first tier. There are also 11 Ariel Full HD IP Bullet cameras deployed, which deliver 1080p video for high motion, complex and low-light scenes.

For effective surveillance of Munu’s boma, 6 FLIR Saros Dome DH-390 cameras, designed to deliver actionable alerts and alarm data, surround the enclosure. One FLIR Saros DM-Series camera is mounted inside the boma to capture every minute detail of Munu’s movement in all conditions.

To manage the video from all the cameras, FLIR also supplied its Meridian TM product, a compact, all-in-one network video recorder (NVR), specially designed to support dozens of channels. Meridian also features a FLIR United VMS EZ Client web interface, which simplifies viewing capabilities and saves the cost of additional workstations.

Powering, processing and managing this system are 6 edge servers, FLIR’s USS Edge Appliances, containing 12TB of storage and preloaded with United VMS software, built to seamlessly manage multiple, varied devices.

Thanks to FLIR’s technology, Barlow is confident that Munu can be an ambassador for his species. He hopes Munu’s story may inspire future conservancies around the world to partner with manufacturers, like FLIR, for heightened perimeter protection.

Recently, actress Shannon Elizabeth, founder of the South Africa-based Shannon Elizabeth Foundation that is focused on wildlife conservation, was moved by Munu’s story and asked Barlow to participate as an advisor to her foundation’s Ranger Relief Fund.

In a time where conservation funding is down because of declining tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ranger Relief Fund supplies money and much needed equipment to ensure conservation first responders remain employed and properly resourced. With early warning technology being more critical than ever, the need for conservancies to partner with technology manufacturers like FLIR is urgent.

“FLIR could prove invaluable to the efforts of rangers all over the African continent to protected endangered animals,” Barlow explained. “With Munu being the proof point, FLIR could be more than Munu’s new eyes, but indeed the eyes of an industry desperate to protect the world’s natural heritage from the burgeoning poaching crisis.”

When asked what advice Barlow would give to other conservancies considering similar security technologies, he said “Speak to the right people. Make sure you talk to someone who understands the product. See the solution in action. View a live site and see how it works. Work with the right people to implement that for yourself.”

Barlow plans to expand Munu’s boma, once he has acclimatised to his new home. And he has already begun using the FLIR Saros DM-Series’ live stream capabilities to invite learners around the world to observe Munu up close.

The plan for Munu is to mate with a female within his own subspecies, thereby directly contributing to the survival of his kind. If Munu does sire a calf, Barlow plans to donate the calf back to the South African National Park that Munu came from to help with the genetic diversity for the reserve.

Beyond FLIR’s high-performing technology, Barlow said he loved working with the FLIR staff.

“What drew me to FLIR were the people involved,” he said. “Wilke and the rest of the FLIR team have been so passionate and resourceful, always available and willing to help when issues arise.”

The FLIR team has enjoyed the project, too.

“When I started working at FLIR, CEO Jim Cannon said our mission is to save lives and livelihoods,” Pretorius explained. “These words stuck with me. Working on the Munu project, it was clear that saving lives and livelihoods are indeed a passion of FLIR employees. I am proud to be a part of a company so eager and passionate to produce solutions and technology that make a positive impact in the world.”

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