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The University of Kent's researchers have developed and tested a system in house that detects when an RFID-tagged plant is removed from its expected location. Software can then forward an alert to park rangers and other individuals, warning them of a potential poaching event.
The next step, for both the U.K. college and the South African institute, is to gather funding to deploy the technology at national parks throughout South Africa, where it can be used to monitor endangered cycads.
The system was devised by David Roberts, an associate professor in biodiversity conservation in the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology in Kent's School of Anthropology and Conservation, and John Batchelor, a professor of antenna technology in Kent's School of Electronics and Digital Arts, to help automatically identify when threatened plants are being removed. It thereby enables local law enforcement to prevent that action before the perpetrators can leave a park or other site.
The group is initially testing the technology on cycads since such seed plants are threatened and highly vulnerable to theft. These cacti predate the Jurassic period, the researchers explain. Cycads can make dramatic ornaments for gardens, golf courses, hotels or other properties, and are thus valued at up to $1,000 per plant, depending on their size. This makes the tree vulnerable in its natural settings, such as rocky outcrops in South Africa. Approximately 40 percent of cycads are currently endangered, in part because they have been heavily poached.
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