Stories in Oregon

From Hear to There

Research on an Oregon preserve may help rangers catch rhino poachers in Africa.

Oregon’s magnificent forests and grasslands sustain many important species, from birds and insects to elk, beavers and bears. But did you know that Oregon's natural areas are also benefiting animals half a world away? Research on anti-poaching technology at The Nature Conservancy’s Sycan Marsh Preserve in Southern Oregon could help save endangered African rhinoceros from poaching.

Habitat loss and illegal poaching have pushed rhinos to the brink of extinction in Africa. It is estimated that fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remain in the wild. Rangers are hard at work protecting these animals and the land upon which they rely, but they can’t be everywhere at once. To increase visibility on illegal activity, undergraduate researcher Saif Bhatti from Northwestern University worked with TNC staff in Oregon to test a new system of bio-acoustic monitoring devices.

The listening devices are designed to monitor ambient sound in real time and listen for target noises such as chainsaws and gunshots. When captured, the sound and location is then relayed to the nearest ranger station to help catch poachers in the act—much like a home security system.

Anti-Rhino Poaching technology at Sycan Marsh Preserve
Anti-Poaching Technology Test Researcher Saif Bhatti fires a rifle at Sycan Marsh Preserve to test listening devices designed to alert rangers to gunshots and chainsaws in South Africa. © Saif Bhatti
Armed guards watch over Sudan, one of four northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Sudan Rhino Armed guards watch over Sudan, one of four northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. © Ami Vitale

The wide-open marshy landscape of Sycan Marsh Preserve mimics the South African savannah with wooded sections that were perfect for testing technology on varied terrain.

Undergraduate Researcher at Northwestern University

Bhatti is now spending time on a private game reserve in South Africa to further test the devices. Sadly, on the day he arrived, the last female black rhino on a private preserve fell victim to poaching—and she was pregnant.

"Needless to say, this does not bode well for the likelihood of rhinos bouncing back from poaching attacks here," said Bhatti. Still, he remains hopeful that the data his devices collect could help measure the scale of both poaching and deforestation to help guide policy change. 

"Since my trials at Sycan, I've been continuing to develop the technology," he said. "I'm grateful for the initial pilot at Sycan, because it pushed us from the lab to the real world for the first time, and pit the technology against the first of many hurdles."

Located in the headwaters of Southern Oregon’s Klamath Basin, east of Crater Lake, Sycan Marsh Preserve is home to The Jim Castles Applied Research Station. For more than 20 years, these research facilities have helped hundreds of scientists test and share research findings and restoration strategies. 

 

Anti-rhino poaching technology being tested in Oregon and Africa
Testing Technology in the Field Saif Bhatti tests his anti-poaching technology on a preserve in South Africa near a group of white rhinos. © Saif Bhatti

We were proud to provide encouragement, an in-depth connection between people and nature, ecological knowledge and the support that Saif needed to test his bold technology. He was an inspiration to us all.

The Nature Conservancy's Sycan Marsh Preserve Manager