Combatting rhino poaching with an Activity Based Intelligence-driven approach

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The poaching of wildlife, and especially that of rhinos and lately elephants, has become a major concern for authorities in Southern Africa. One tool in the fight against poaching is to use patterns-of-life analysis to root out poachers who blend in to local communities.

On average three rhinos a day are killed in South Africa and in other parts of the continent they are now extinct. The majority of these crimes are undertaken by crime syndicates operating in the underworld of global illicit trade. It is estimated that the illegal economy accounts for up to 15% of the global GDP, translating into approximately $650 billion per annum.

The nature of illicit economic activities makes it difficult to identify the nature and origin of the threat, according to Suritec, a Cape Town based company specializing in intelligence and decision-support systems. Poachers become part of the local scene and their criminal activities are disguised within the broader community. Thus, by hiding in the normal civilian information “clutter”, these non-traditional security threats are hard to find using traditional analytical techniques.

New methodologies based on intelligence-led approaches can now be considered to combat these illicit economic activities, according to Suritec. Activity Based Intelligence (ABI) has emerged in recent times as the most widely adopted method. By determining and tracking poaching syndicates’ actions and activities in time and space, they can be made visible.

ABI is not an entirely new concept and is characterized by the classic intelligence questions of Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. However, the combination of advanced tools, techniques and traditional tradecraft has generated a renewed interest in ABI. Multiple agencies in the USA and elsewhere are exploring the value of ABI in various environments. This has been brought about by changes in warfare and the nature of threats. More importantly, the increasing flood of sensors and data growth, and coupled with technological improvements has also contributed in accelerating the adoption of an Activity Based Intelligence approach.

In South Africa there are indications that rangers in the Kruger National Park are now adjusting their patrols on the basis of analysis provided by geo-spatial data and mathematical modelling to predict the behaviour of poachers and animals. Early results indicate that this approach is assisting rangers in catching poachers.

Suritec, together with Amahlo Consulting, have been adopting ABI principles to develop intelligence supporting software which has been successfully used to counter copper and metals theft in Gauteng.

Applying ABI in practice is not without challenges, however. Much of its success rests on the quality of the data collected and captured and the technology is expensive and still maturing. In addition there is a shortage of analysts with the technical and analytical skills needed to carry out such in-depth analysis, Suritec cautions.

However, with the necessary tools and techniques in place, the company believes that operational intelligence analysts are now in the position to determine specific patterns of life in the theatre of operations and detect early warning signs of poaching and other illegal activity.