The use of what the national Department of Environmental Affairs terms “appropriate technologies” as force multipliers in the ongoing battle against poachers intent on rhino horn and elephant tusks is increasing.
A statement this month has it that home-grown solutions between national and provincial parks and game reserves, the CSIR and industry “not only reduces the risk to rangers, it also ensures more proactive engagement and utilisation of resources in a cost-effective manner”.
One of these is the Postcode Meerkat surveillance system deployed in the Kruger National Park. In its first six months of operation the Meerkat Wide Area Surveillance System (WASS) detected 89 poachers over a 62 day/night period. It is estimated 19 rhinos were saved by rangers acting on information provided by Meerkat.
Meerkat was developed through a partnership between SANParks, Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (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 to detect, track and classify people entering certain areas. As the system has day and thermal cameras for night-time use, poachers cannot hide.
According to the department the radar has ensured the decrease of rhino poaching in high density areas by more than 80% and ensured rangers can now dominate the night hours as well.
The national custodian of South Africa’s environment said Operation Rhino 9, a follow-up to previous targeted taskings, was progressing well from mission area joint operations centres in Acornhoek, Phalaborwa and Hluhluwe.
Since January about 400 suspects have been arrested on a range of charges including rhino poaching.
Additional successes recorded as part of Operation Rhino 9 are initiation of intelligence-driven operations in Mpumalanga resulting in the seizure of unlicensed firearms and ammunition; seizure of “an assortment of incriminating evidence”, including cell-phones and axes, during arrests; and securing sentences following convictions with a maximum sentence of nine years imprisonment.