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How the campaign against poaching in Kruger is fought

Rangers in the Kruger Park.The man who manages the campaign of South African National Parks (SANParks) against wildlife crime and corruption, says it is his “toughest job ever”. Maj Gen Johan Jooste retired as a Member of the Army General Staff, and after a time in industry was hired by SANParks five years ago as Head of Special Projects to help in the fight against a wave of poaching.

After years of rapid rises in “incidents” in the Kruger Park, including incursions by armed gangs, poaching, and shootouts with rangers, the situation has begun to improve. Incidents declined by more than 20 percent last year, and are further “tapering down” this year, says Jooste.

However, Kruger remains under threat, says Jooste, who was speaking about the security lessons from the Park at the Africa Border Management and Security Conference in Johannesburg last week. The conference, organised by IQPC Middle East, brought together senior security, defence, police, and border officials from a number of African countries with border fence, sensor, and software firms.

Last year there were about eight incursions a day and twelve gangs in the Park at any one time. That meant 7 500 poachers entered the park and there were around 2 500 poaching incidents, of which 100 of these involved shootouts with rangers. With its proximity to urban areas and highways, the south-west of the Park is the most heavily under pressure.

The drop in incidents in Kruger, which is largely the result of improved security, has meant that poachers have diverted their attention to other parks in the country, where poaching is now rising fast.

Jooste attributes the improved situation in Kruger to the “Whole of Society” inclusive approach to security that has been adopted and the use of key “force multipliers”. Rather than build a 1 000 km hard physical border around a territory that is almost the size of Israel or Wales, the aim has been to build “alliances”.

The great effort that must go into “alliance” building is one of the reasons why this is his toughest job ever. This has involved persuading multiple national, regional, and international parties to support the campaign in some form.

“The Park can only be cleared from the outside,” says Jooste. Given the easy money that could be earned from poaching it was difficult to obtain the buy in of surrounding communities. However, “you had to prove to them that it was to their benefit. “

Other “alliances’ have been built with the Mozambican authorities who coordinate patrols on their side of the border with Kruger rangers. Until recently, poaching was not a crime in Mozambique, which meant that those caught with illegal wildlife crossing the border would not be prosecuted in Mozambique. Last year about 30 percent of the poachers caught were from Mozambique, compared to 60 percent in 2015.

Jooste says much of the improved efficiency of the campaign is due to Meerkat, the extensive sensor network that was installed last year in Kruger; improved radio communications, the work of a canine units to track down poachers over long distances; the training of specialised rangers, and the use of helicopters.

Meerkat has been “a great success”, says Jooste. The system, developed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is a radar and electro-optic sensor network that can detect, classify, monitor and track humans moving in the park.

Jooste says that another key force multiplier, particularly in ensuring faster command and control as well as the recording of incidents, has been the use of Cmore, the CSIR developed real time situational awareness system. Cmore has an easy to use cell phone app, which means Park rangers have a rapid reporting and instant messaging system. If rangers are in parts of the park that are off the cell phone grid, they use radios.

As the price of satellite imagery comes down, he expects far greater use of this will be made by the Park rangers.

The remaining big gap in the Kruger Park and overall SANPark security, says Jooste, is the collapse of the crime networks behind the poaching through improved intelligence and cooperation with other enforcement agencies.

One negative side effect of the growing SANParks budget for security is that it pushes up costs and means that less can be spent on conservation, the core mission of the organization.

This is clearly a long campaign, but the lessons learned about alliances and the key force multipliers could offer a wider SA model for security.