On the western boundary of the Kruger National Park, private and community-owned game reserves under the Greater Kruger Environmental Protection Foundation (GKEPF) banner have joined forces with conservation agencies, NGOs and security service providers to increase environmental asset protection by integrating anti-poaching and security strategies.
Its first year of operations was marked this week by the official taking into service of a command and communications centre (ComCen) at the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) and a reported 50% reduction in the number of rhinos poached in the area.
The Foundation also aims to improve conservation asset management in its area of operations. This covers, in addition to Kruger, the Balule, Klaserie, Umbabat, Timbavati, Kempiana, Manyeleti and Sabi Sands private and community-owned reserves.
The public/private partnership includes co-operation from the national conservation agency, SANParks; the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority; the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and SAWC sited adjacent to Kruger’s Orpen Gate.
In a statement issued by PPF to mark the GKEPF’s formalisation, the Stellenbosch-headquartered conservation NGO said one of its aims was to end the fragmented approach to wildlife protection in the region.
“The activities of GKEPF and its partners will also assist in securing private and community-owned reserves as part of a joint protection zone (JPZ). This is a co-operation-based conservation management block with Kruger at its heart and includes all private and community-owned reserves on the national park’s borders.
“It is vital to develop the capabilities in the region for the protection of all species by enhancing the effectiveness of both management authorities and resources. We are actively trying to ensure collaborative conservation management and enhanced security as an outcome of the effective exchange if information, sharing of equipment, skills, training, experience and moral support,” said GKEPF operation director, retired colonel Otch Otto.
This week (Monday, June 26) saw the opening of the GKEPF command and communications centre (ComCen) at SAWC. Financial support from the PPF has seen the ComCen staffed and equipped with communications and data management systems. These will see optimal execution, monitoring and response to suspected poaching incidents and will also be used for administrative and logistic functions.
PPF commitment to the GKEPF has also seen a digital communication system installed and working across its entire operational area. It will, said PPF, allow seamless and secure communication between Kruger security personnel and private and community-owned reserves on both sides of the Kruger boundary.
The initial phase of the project saw specific focus on improving security infrastructure at Manyeleti Game Reserve. Sited inside the JPZ it has been targeted by poaching syndicates as an access route to Kruger. PPF funding saw a portion of boundary fence upgraded and installation of an electro-pulse monitoring system. This feeds data directly back to the GKEPA ComCen.
PPF chief executive Werner Myburgh said partnerships and the use of technology were imperative to stay ahead of poaching syndicates.
“In Manyeleti, secure digital communications and smart monitoring with rapid response capabilities are all important in the development of effective protection strategies,” he said, adding initial results “have been encouraging”.
The first year of ComCen operations has seen a 50% reduction in the number of rhinos poached in the area, Myburgh said.
There has not been any official release of rhino kill and arrest statistics by Minister Edna Molewa’s Department of Environmental Affairs since February but the National Assembly was told earlier this month by Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh that 483 rhinos have been killed so far this year.