Using defence technology to fight rhino poaching


Technology originally developed for military and security use could be used as another weapon in the fight against rhino poaching.

According to Jerker Ahlqvist, general manager of Saab Aeronautics South Africa, military technology can be deployed to enhance the operational effectiveness of the authorities who are fighting the scourge of wildlife poaching. Saab’s Skeldar, an unmanned aerial vehicle, is ideal for surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial photography and border patrol. Its real-time data and image transmission allows conservationists and rangers to survey large areas. Thanks to its rotor wing it can move slowly or hover in one position and can approach areas while remaining difficult to detect, even with air surveillance radar.

“The beauty of the system is its size and mobility. It can easily fit onto the back of a trailer, so it’s easy to move around the bush or on small gravel roads. It doesn’t need a landing strip and is easily assembled and launched by a team of five.”

Ahlqvist says a ground control station can be integrated into a van and can provide a ranger with a remote video terminal providing the same real-time visuals being received by the ground station.

Saab has a number of flexible cost solutions making this technology affordable and an attractive option for national parks and reserves. “By purchasing an agreed number of flying hours, which includes all operations and maintenance by a dedicated Saab team, it gives conservationists much-needed 21st century technology to enhance their operations and mobility,” says Ahlqvist.

A decade ago, only a handful of rhinos were being poached and the numbers are increasing every year. There were 333 rhino slayings in South Africa alone in 2010, increasing to 448 and 668 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Mozambique’s rhino population has been decimated, with some reports stating that the species are extinct. The horns are fetching between R550 000 to R900 000 per kilogram on the black market, making the much sought-after commodity higher in value than gold.

But it doesn’t stop there. African elephants face a greater predicament, with tens of thousands being killed each year on the continent, more than at any other time since the 1989 international ivory trade ban came into effect. Poached ivory is being exchanged for weapons, cash and ammunition in many conflict-ridden Central and West African countries where law enforcement is poor or non-existent and the ever-increasing demand for ivory from China exacerbates the situation.

Adding to these reports from late 2012, poaching has become a major source of funding for militant insurgencies, terrorist organisations, and organised criminal enterprises in Africa. US analysts found the al-Qaeda-associated, Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabab are among the groups using poaching to fund its activities.

“Saab’s focus is to assist our customers to address their needs in a challenging and changing complex world. We are well known for producing and delivering hi-tech products for both military and security purposes,” says Ahlqvist.

“Around the world we are seeing an increasing trend in bringing together the private sector with government partners. Traditional aerospace, defence, security and other hi-tech industries, while good at assisting governments build their military capabilities, may increasingly use the same technology for safety and security in other areas.

“Governments and authorities who believe strongly in saving the continent’s remaining rhino population, and ensuring that other species are protected, should have access to whatever resources are available,” Ahlqvist concludes.

Saab serves the global market with world-leading products, services and solutions ranging from military defence to civil security. Saab has operations and employees on all continents and constantly develops, adopts and improves new technology to meet customers’ changing needs.