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How technology is giving the wildlife economy a welcome boost – and making insurance easier

How technology is giving the wildlife economy a welcome boost – and making insurance easier
24-04-24 / Duty Editor

How technology is giving the wildlife economy a welcome boost – and making insurance easier

Johannesburg - Innovations such as drone technology are making a significant difference in wildlife conservation – and the insurance industry is endorsing digital-led solutions with gusto, reducing risk for game farmers and hospitality establishments alike.

The theme for this year's World Wildlife Day was Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation – underscoring how the human touch combined with cutting-edge technology can be a formidable force in protecting the environment.

According to Greg Dillon at iTOO Special Risks, leaders in drone insurance, the robust demand for commercial drone insurance is underpinned by the strong impact these unmanned aerial vehicles are making in certain sectors of the economy, including agriculture, events, tourism and hospitality.

Besides their applications in crop spraying, soil monitoring and data collection in commercial farming operations, drones are also revolutionising how game farms and nature conservation operations are run, says Andries Wiese, National Business Development Manager at Hollard.

"Drones are being used to map game farms and their fixed property aerially, which is really helpful to us when it comes to the insurance underwriting process," he says. 

"They also help combat illegal wildlife trading by detecting body heat and tracking the movements of poachers and game in remote rural areas through sophisticated infrared, thermal imaging and movement sensing technology. Not only that – drones also aid in firefighting and disaster management efforts in wildlife reserves."

Wildlife tracking is being made easier through drone technology, such as that deployed in East Africa, where drones equipped with an advanced AI system are used to recognise individual elephants from images, aiding conservationists in their monitoring efforts.

Wiese says drones are one of the technological innovations currently being used to assist with risk management in the wildlife economy, primarily in game management. He believes that technology can form the foundation of a collaborative approach to minimising risks to tangible assets, livelihoods, the natural environment, and both human and animal life. This is because we all have "skin in the game" when it comes to protecting biodiversity.

"Effective wildlife conservation, and the management of our natural resources, is essential to the future survival and prosperity of humankind, because of our interdependency with the environment."

Wiese says that in the face of natural disasters and certain man-made incidents (including arson) in recent years in South Africa, the insurance sector has played a major role in keeping the conservation and wildlife economy afloat and on its feet.

But, he says, doing so requires a joint effort, and this is where safari lodges and game farms can minimise liability and lower their insurance premiums through preventative measures to ensure a safe environment – such as using electronic consent forms or digital signatures to signal guests' acceptance of certain establishment safety rules.

He relates a recent incident of a family who left a bowl of fruit on a table at a unit in a private game reserve and forgot to close the window. A passing elephant decided to help himself – taking out the window, the frame and part of the wall in the process. 

"That's nobody's fault, but we have to manage risk from an insurance point of view. The onus is on the owners to convey to their guests certain safety precautions – even the obvious ones – like 'Close all doors and windows', 'Don't play with the animals' and 'Don't feed the elephants'."

Another game management or risk management measure is to dehorn privately owned rhinos to reduce the risk of poaching – or fit vulnerable animals with electronic ear tags that transmit GPS or VHF signals to alert anti-poaching units to any suspicious activity.

Technology has even evolved to such a degree that a medical emergency at a game lodge out in the bushveld can be managed through staff being directed via a remote video link on how to stabilise a guest until paramedics arrive.

Wiese says that when these risks in the wildlife economy are mitigated, including through the use of digital tools, establishments will pay less for their insurance because they have put measures in place to reduce the risk for the insurer – and, ultimately, the guests and the environment will benefit, too.

"The most valuable contribution that an insurer can deliver within this space is to recognise that game parks and lodges are the vehicles through which people can protect land and encourage game to thrive," notes Wiese.

"We need to do as much as possible to conserve our finite resources so the next generation can also experience the greatness of nature, our most prized asset."

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