The Postcode Meerkat surveillance system utilising the Reutech RSR 904 radar is a joint winner of this year’s SANParks Innovation Award.
The system was named an award winner along with the rest of the Meerkat project team – SANParks, Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), CSIR and the Southern African Wildlife College K9 unit.
The national conservation agency annual awards presentation was held in Midrand on Friday to recognise SANParks employees as well as “multiple stakeholders and disciplines which play a pivotal role in strengthening South African conservation”.
“Innovation is one of the ways we will and are able to better protect our national parks through either anti-poaching efforts or finding solutions to climate change. If we don’t innovate we run the risk of losing our natural heritage. Tonight we honour innovators who lead the way in the conservation of our natural world,” SANParks chief executive Fundisile Mketeni said.
The innovation mastery of Meerkat is in the ability to apply technology to distinguish between humans and animals in an African bush environment, over large distances, where traditional surveillance equipment falls short because of the extreme temperatures, thick vegetation and terrain challenges according to a SANParks statement.
The SAWC K9 Unit’s capacity was boosted by the innovative addition of 20 new, free-running pack dogs from Texas in the US. Since the arrival of the new packs, the unit has been involved in 73 deployments in Greater Kruger National Park with 43 poachers arrested and 18 rifles confiscated.
The Meerkat wide area surveillance system (WASS) allows rangers to observe suspected poachers without their knowledge. This makes them predictable and allows the OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) cycle to remain complete. Rangers have the advantage and remain safely hidden at night. They can decide when and where to engage poachers.
Meerkat was launched in December 2016 although it and officially into operation at the end of January after completion of the first production model, named Postcode Meerkat in acknowledgement of funding from the Netherlands’ People’s Postcode Lottery.
Meerkat was developed through a partnership between SANParks, PPF and CSIR using local components. This includes a Reutech RSR 904 ground surveillance radar. In addition to the radar, Meerkat includes long-range cameras for night use as well as information analysis software able to detect, track and classify people entering certain areas. The system has day and thermal cameras for night use so poachers cannot hide.
The system is designed to be mobile and can be rapidly deployed to prevent poaching crisis zones from developing. Meerkat can be deployed by a vehicle or slung below a helicopter. It is solar powered and has a backup generator that can be remotely controlled if needed.