Two weeks after its introduction in January, the Kruger National Park’s wide range surveillance technology, the Meerkat, managed to stop five out of nine detected rhino poaching incidents.
“It’s almost like the angel on your shoulder that can see where you cannot see and that makes it a lot safer for the ranger,” Kruger National Park technical operations manager Mark Andrew McGill said in a promotional video. “If we want to save rhinos, we have to keep our rangers safe.”
Developed by South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Meerkat uses a radar system to detect movement and plots the movement on a map. An electronic optical surveillance system is then used to identify the exact location of potential poachers. “Once we have done that and we have a position on the poachers – a specific latitude and longitude – we can call in a reaction unit, either by helicopter or via road,” McGill said. “Given the challenge of Kruger being so large, this technology really assists us in saving these rhinos and apprehending illegal poachers.”
On 14 February, the system detected three separate groups of poachers. “It can be said with confidence that if the Meerkat was not operational on this night, anything between four to eight, or more, rhinos may have been killed,” a statement by the reserve reads.
At the forefront of technology
The system is designed to fold up and fit in the back of a truck, and can be unloaded by a small team.
Werner Myburgh, CEO of Meerkat implementing partner Peace Parks Foundation, said the aim of the system was to have day and night surveillance. “In the case of Kruger National’s Park intensive zone, we have 5 000 rhino. You can basically cover half of that area with three or four units and that’s the dream, that’s the objective,” he said.
The project is co-sponsored by UK-based People’s Lottery. The lottery’s managing director, Jo Bucci, said the Meerkat was at the forefront of technology and pioneering innovation. “This is one tool in their toolbox to help them and we mustn’t forget that, but it’s going to be an important one.”
The Department of Environmental Affairs estimates that 1 215 rhino were killed in South Africa during 2014. In 2015, the number dropped to 1 175. The department is yet to release statistics for 2016.